Search FQXi

If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Forum Home
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the blogger are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help

Zeeya Merali: on 8/1/19 at 17:45pm UTC, wrote What are the physical limits constraining the exponential growth of...


Zeeya Merali: "Viviana Fafone is a member of the VIRGO collaboration that detects..." in Micro and macro-physics...

Zeeya Merali: "Antonino Cataldo describes the how to synthesize bio-nanotechnologies to..." in Bionanotechnologies and...

Zeeya Merali: "What is the scientific approach? Matteo Martini talks about the..." in The 21st Century News...

Zeeya Merali: "in this introductory lecture, Frederick Van Der Veken discusses physics at..." in Big Machines, High...

Zeeya Merali: "FQXi's Catalina Curceanu discusses how particle physics experiments at the..." in Strangeness in Neutron...

Zeeya Merali: "Leader of the NEXT group, Stefano Bellucci, discusses applications of..." in Nanomaterials for...

Zeeya Merali: "FQXi's Lorenzo Maccone delves into the one of the deepest question in..." in What is Time? by Lorenzo...

Fabio SCIARRINO: "An introductory lecture on how developments in quantum physics over the..." in The Second Quantum...

click titles to read articles

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.

Outside the Box
A proposed quantum set-up that could predict your game-playing strategy resurrects Newcomb’s classic quiz show paradox.

The Quantum Agent
Investigating how the quantum measurement process might be related to the emergence of intelligence, agency and free will.

First Things First: The Physics of Causality
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Untangling the connections between cause and effect, choice, and entropy.

June 5, 2020

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: The Future of Computation: Fred Adams at the 6th FQXi Meeting [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Aug. 1, 2019 @ 17:45 GMT
What are the physical limits constraining the exponential growth of computation? And how might we overcome them?

In a talk that captures the spirit of the Foundational Questions Institute beautifully, astrophysicist Fred Adams began with a series of fairly grounded calculations looking at when we might run out of computational resources on the planet (spoiler alert: it’s a lot sooner than you might imagine) and ended with some fun speculation, by proposing that an advanced alien civilisation could mine a star (an asymptotic red giant branch star) for energy and for graphite and silicon to build a solar-system-sized “black cloud computer.” He has also worked out the signatures of such a black cloud computer that today’s Earth-bound astronomers could search the skies for, while looking for evidence of alien tech.

Black Cloud Computer
That’s quite a ride in a 15 minute talk, which you can enjoy in its entirety. It begins with a fascinating look back through the history of science. For a thousand years we had practitioners of science, but over the last century that split into theoreticians and experimentalists, Adams notes. In the past two decades, that split again, adding computational scientists to the mix. And in recent years, we’ve seen an explosion in data science. Looking at the history of the evolution of science and the growing importance of computation, Adams says, “There will be a new paradigm and this paradigm will arrive sooner rather than later.”

And according to Adams’ calculations, that paradigm shift may need to come soon before the demands placed on Earth's resources by ever more powerful computers becomes too great. Moore’s Law predicted the number of transistors on a chip would double every year or so. We are indeed seeing an exponential increase in the volume of computing, and also the speed of computing and the variety of data.

In his talk Adams run through a number of calculations that show when we might hit the limits of computation — assuming things continue as they have been, with no significant new resources being found. If data storage continues to grow at the current rate, Adams argues, there will be a time where the data storage mass exceeds the mass of the biosphere itself. That such a limit exists is not surprising. That we could hit it in just 32 years, according to his math, is perhaps more of a shock. Adams talks through a number of similar startling calculations on the podcast.

We may be able to get around this, but we will need new energy sources, new storage strategies, new algorithms, or some other shift in building computers, Adams says. It’s also worth pondering whether we’ll reach this saturation in exponential growth before or after the speculated AI singularity — the point at which humans are outsmarted by artificial intelligences.

Having shared this pessimistic vision for the future with the FQXi crowd, Adams threw in a somewhat whimsical solution. If we need more energy and more storage capacity, perhaps we should look to the stars. Asymptotic red giant branch stars burn a thousand times brighter than our sun, and throw off silicon and graphite in their winds. As a bit of “wild speculation” Adams wondered whether an advanced alien civilisation might create a solar-system-sized black cloud computer that mines such a star for energy and materials.

As an astrophysicist, Adams then thought about what such a black cloud computer might look like, if viewed from Earth. Listen to his talk for the observable signatures that today’s astronomers might look out for on the hunt for alien intelligence.

Free Podcast

The Limits of Computation. Astrophysicist Fred Adams argues the world will run out of resources for computation in 32 years without a paradigm shift. And he discusses how alien civilizations could mine stars to create solar-system-sized "black cloud computers," which could be detected on Earth. From the 6th FQXi meeting in Tuscany.


Go to full podcast

(Edited on 19 August 2019 to add the video of talk, which is now posted.)

Bookmark and Share
this post has been edited by the forum administrator

report post as inappropriate

Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.