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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World

2019 Information as Fuel

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Arkady Fedorov
University of Queensland

Gerard Milburn

Sally Shrapnel

Project Title

Information as fuel for a quantum clock

Project Summary

Not all energy is useful: disordered energy, a.k.a. heat, ultimately limits the efficiency of machines. Access to a source of low disorder --- low entropy --- enables us to make machines by pushing components of the world away from thermal equilibrium. This can be done using a battery but also by extracting information, thereby decreasing disorder, through measurement. A clock is just such a machine: it can run by extracting information from disorder. We will demonstrate a superconducting quantum circuit that can transition from an information-driven clock to a work-driven clock in a single physical implementation, thus demonstrating the equivalence of information and fuel for a quantum clock. In so doing we will determine the theoretical limits to the accuracy of clocks arising from the quantum limits to information extraction.

On a practical level, we believe that our project will demonstrate the quantum thermodynamics limits to the accuracy of physical clocks. This may have important implications for quantum technologies more generally. But it may also have implications for our understanding of time in the physical world. One of the outstanding problems in modern physics is the difficulty of reconciling quantum theory and general relativity. Much of this problem turns on an understanding of time. A promising idea, due to Rovelli, suggests that physical time ultimately depends on the concept of thermal equilibrium. As thermodynamics is generally regarded as a desiderata for new physics this may well provide a path to the terra incognita between quantum and gravity. Our information driven clock is an operational statement of Rovelli's idea.

There are some intriguing philosophical implications of our experiment. Can we view the information/fuel duality as a physical consequence of the quantum measurements necessary to reveal the phenomenology of time keeping or does it presuppose the inclusion of intelligent agents to make observations? There has long been a tension between the time of the physicists and our first person experience of passing time. By grounding time keeping in the physics of irreversibility and measurement perhaps we can reconcile these two views. Our experiment will go some way to clearing the conceptual ground for such a claim. At a deeper level we hope to show that thermal, information-driven clocks can give important insights for the alignment of casual and temporal arrows by highlighting the importance of contingent measurement records in the curiously perspectival feel of causal relations and temporal direction.

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