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Time to Think
Philosopher Jenann Ismael invokes the thermodynamic arrow of time to explain how human intelligence emerged through culture.

Lockdown Lab Life
Grounded physicists are exploring the use of online and virtual-reality conferencing, and AI-controlled experiments, to maintain social distancing. Post-pandemic, these positive innovations could make science more accessible and environmentally-friendly.

Is Causality Fundamental?
Untangling how the human perception of cause-and-effect might arise from quantum physics, may help us understand the limits and the potential of AI.

Building Agency in the Biology Lab
Physicists are using optogenetics techniques to make a rudimentary agent, from cellular components, which can convert measurements into actions using light.

Think Quantum to Build Better AI
Investigating how quantum memory storage could aid machine learning and how quantum interactions with the environment may have played a role in evolution.

December 3, 2020

Natural Selection in Action
by Anil Ananthaswamy
November 10, 2009
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Credit: Lin-Wang Wang, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Darwin could back up his ideas on natural selection by looking at the characteristics of birds and animals. But how can we catch "quantum natural selection" in the act?

In 2007, Wojciech Zurek of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and his former student, Robin Blume-Kohout of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, developed a computer model in which a "quantum pendulum" was set oscillating according to the laws of quantum mechanics. Such an oscillator can exist in a superposition of states, simultaneously present in all possible locations along its path. The duo modeled the environment by including thousands of other pendulums nearby, each "swinging" at a different frequency.

If quantum Darwinism is correct, the environmental pendulums should record a copy of the quantum pendulum’s position. And that is what it did. Multiple copies of the same quantum state were replicated throughout the environment. The model showed quantum Darwinism in action.

In addition, early this year, Roland Brunner of the University of Leoben in Austria and his colleagues showed quantum Darwinism, in theory, in an array of quantum dots—nanoscale bits of semiconducting materials, with electrons that can exist in a superposition of states.

The team studied what happens when multiple dots are arrayed in series and also interact with the environment. They found that two adjacent quantum dots gave rise to a special quantum state that was peculiar to their interaction, and not merely a combination of states of individual quantum dots.

More importantly, they showed that they could find out about these special states by looking at individual quantum dots. It’s as if stable states had been copied and imprinted on all the individual dots. All observers would see the same objective reality—thanks to quantum Darwinism.

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