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Rebooting the Cosmos: Is the Universe the Ultimate Computer?

As computers become progressively faster and more powerful, they’ve gained the impressive capacity to simulate increasingly realistic environments. Which raises a question familiar to aficionados of The Matrix—might life and the world as we know it be a simulation on a super advanced computer? “Digital physicists” have developed this idea well beyond the sci-fi possibilities, suggesting a new scientific paradigm in which computation is not just a tool for approximating reality, but is also the basis of reality itself. In place of elementary particles, think bits; in place of fundamental laws of physics, think computer algorithms. But is this a viable approach? Is the universe the ultimate computer running some grand cosmic code? A discussion among the brightest minds in digital physics to explore math, computer science, theories of consciousness, the origin of life, and free will—and delve into a world of information that may underlie everything.

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Moderator

John HockenberryJournalist

Three-time Peabody Award winner, four-time Emmy Award winner, and Dateline NBC correspondent John Hockenberry has broad experience as a journalist and commentator for more than two decades. Hockenberry is the anchor of the public radio show The Takeaway on WNYC and PRI.

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Participants

Edward FredkinComputer Scientist

Edward Fredkin’s computer career started in 1956 when the Air Force assigned him to work at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories. In 1968 he started at MIT as a full professor. From 1971 to 1974 he was the Director of CSAIL and he spent a year at Caltech as a Fairchild Distinguished Scholar, working with Richard Feynman.

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Seth LloydMechanical Engineer, Author

Seth Lloyd is currently the professor of quantum-mechanical engineering at MIT and the director of the W.M. Keck Center for Extreme Quantum Information Theory. Lloyd is the first person to develop a realizable model for quantum computation.

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Jürgen SchmidhuberComputer Scientist, Artist

Jürgen Schmidhuber has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers. His lab’s research on artificial neural nets won several handwriting recognition contests and number one rankings in several computer vision competitions and benchmarks.

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Fotini Markopoulou-KalamaraTheoretical Physicist

A founding member and faculty at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, a research institute devoted to foundational issues in theoretical physics, Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara is a leading researcher in the problem of quantum gravity.

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