# Maxwell s Demon. Kirk T. McDonald Joseph Henry Laboratories, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ (October 3, 2004)

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1 1 Problem Maxwell s Demon Kirk T. McDonald Joseph Henry Laboratories, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ (October 3, 2004) This problem is prob. 2 of [1]. One of the earliest conceptual supercomputers was Maxwell s Demon [2], who uses intelligence in sorting molecules to appear to evade the Second Law of Thermodynamics. To place the demon in a computational context, consider a computer memory that consists of a set of boxes (bits), each of volume V and each containing a single molecule. A (re)movable partition divides the volume into left and right halves. If the molecule is in thelefthalfofaboxthisrepresentsthe0 state, while if the molecule is in the right half of aboxwehavethe1 state. The boxes are all at temperature T, as maintained by an external heat bath. By averaging over the motion of each molecule, we can speak of the pressure P in each box according to the ideal gas law, P = kt/v,wherek is Boltzmann s constant. (a) A Model for Classical Erasure of a Bit A memory bit can be erased (forced to the 0 state) without knowledge as to the value of that bit by the following sequence of operations: Remove the partition, permitting a free expansion of the gas from volume v to 2V. Isothermally compress the volume of the box from 2V back to V by means of a piston that moves from the far right of the box to its midplane. The molecule is now in the left half of the box, no matter in which half it originally was. Reinsert the partition (at the right edge of the compressed volume). Withdraw the piston, restoring the box to its original shape, with the molecule in the left half of the box and nothing in the right half = the 0 state. Deduce the total entropy change of the system of memory + thermal bath for the combined processes of free expansion followed by isothermal compression. Exercise (a) illustrates Landauer s Principle [3] that in a computer which operates at temperature T there is a minimum entropy cost of k ln2 to perform the logically irreversible 1

2 step of erasure of a bit in memory, while in principle all other types of classical computational operations could be performed (reversibly) at zero entropy and zero energy cost. 1 An important extrapolation from Landauer s Principle was made by Bennett [4, 5] who noted that if a computer has a large enough memory such that no erasing need be done during a computation, then the computation could be performed reversibly, and the computer restored to its initial state at the end of the computation by undoing (reversing) the program once the answer was obtained. The notion that computation could be performed by a reversible process was initially considered to be counterintuitive and impractical. However, this idea was of great conceptual importance because it opened the door to quantum computation, based on quantum processes which are intrinsically reversible (except for measurement). A second important distinction between classical and quantum computation (i.e., physics), besides the irreversibility of quantum measurement, is that an arbitrary (unknown) quantum state cannot be copied exactly [10, 11]. (b) Classical Copying of a Known Bit In Bennett s reversible computer there must be a mechanism for preserving the result of a computation, before the computer is reversibly restored to its initial state. Use the model of memory bits as boxes with a molecule in the left or right half to describe a (very simple) process whereby a bit, whose value is known, can be copied at zero energy cost and zero entropy change onto a bit whose initial state is 0. A question left open by the previous discussion is whether the state of a classical bit can be determined without an energy cost or entropy change. In a computer, the way we show that we know the state of a bit is by making a copy of it. To know the state of the bit, i.e., in which half of a memory box the molecule resides, we must make some kind of measurement. In principle, this can be done very slowly and gently, by placing the box on a balance, or using the mechanical device (from [6]) sketched on the next page, such that the energy cost is arbitrarily low, in exchange for the measurement process being tedious, and the apparatus somewhat bulky. Thus, we accept the assertion of Bennett and Landauer that measurement and copying of a classical bit are, in principle, cost-free operations. 2 We can now contemplate another procedure for resetting a classical bit to 0. First, measure its state (making a copy in the process), and then subtract the copy from the original. (We leave it as an optional exercise for you to concoct a procedure using the molecule in a box to implement the subtraction.) This appears to provide a scheme for erasure at zero energy/entropy cost, in contrast to the procedure you considered in part (a). However, at the end of the new procedure, the copy of the original bit remains, using up memory space. So to complete the erasure operation, we should also reset the copy bit. This could be done at no energy/entropy cost by making yet another copy, and subtracting it from the first copy. To halt this silly cycle of resets, we must sooner or later revert to the 1 The principle enunciated by Landauer himself [3] is that erasure has an energy cost of at least kt ln 2. However, the present example does not confirm this claim. 2 However, there is a kind of hidden entropy cost in the measurement process; namely the cost of preparing in the 0 state the bits of memory where the results of the measurement can be stored. 2

3 procedure of part (a), which did not involve a measurement of the bit before resetting it. So, we must sooner or later pay the energy/entropy cost to erase a classical bit. Recalling Maxwell s demon, we see that his task of sorting molecules into the left half of a partitioned box is equivalent to erasing a computer memory. The demon can perform his task with the aid of auxiliary equipment, which measures and stores information about the molecules. To finish his task cleanly, the demon must not only coax all the molecules into the left half of the box, but he must return his auxiliary equipment to its original state (so that he could use it to sort a new set of molecules...poor demon). At some time during his task, the demon must perform a cleanup (erasure) operation equivalent to that of part (a), in which the entropy of the molecules/computer can be unchanged, but with an increase in the entropy of the environment by at least k ln 2 per erased bit. The erasure demon obeys the Second Law of Thermodynamics 3 and performs his task millions of times each second in your palm computer. The moral of this problem is Landauer s dictum:. Information is physical 3 For further reading, see chap. 5 of [7], and [5, 8, 9]. 3

4 2 Solution 2.1 Classical Erasure It is assumed that the partition can be removed and inserted without expenditure of energy (without any flow of heat). The entropy change of a gas during the irreversible free expansion is that same as that during a slow, reversible isothermal expansion between the same initial and final states. During an isothermal expansion of volume V to 2V, the work done by the molecule is 2V dv W by molecule = PdV= kt = kt ln 2. (1) V V V To keep the temperature, and hence the internal energy, of the molecule constant, heat must flow into the box from the heat bath, and in amount Q = WkT ln 2. Hence, the thermodynamic entropy change of the box during the isothermal expansion is ΔS box, iso exp = ΔQ into box /T = k ln 2. The entropy change of the bath is equal and opposite, ΔS bath, iso exp = k ln 2. During the free expansion to the same final state as of the isothermal expansion, the entropy change of the box is the same as during the isothermal expansion, but the thermal bath experiences no entropy change as it transfer no heat. 2V ΔS box, free exp = k ln 2, ΔS bath, free exp =0. (2) Then, during the isothermal compression, the entropy changes of the box and bath are just the opposite of those during the isothermal expansion, ΔS box, iso comp = k ln 2, ΔS bath, iso comp = k ln 2. (3) Thus, the total entropy changes during the erasure of the bit, consisting of a free expansion followed by an isothermal compression, are and the total entropy change of the universe is ΔS box, erasure =0, ΔS bath, erasure = k ln 2, (4) ΔS universe, erasure = k ln 2. (5) Note that there is no net energy change in either the free expansion or the isothermal compression, so the erasure of a bit is accomplished at zero energy cost in this model. 2.2 Classical Copying of a Known Bit The original bit box has its molecule in either the left half (0) ortherighthalf(1), and we know which is the case. The copy box is initially in a particular state that we might as well take to be 0, i.e., its molecule is in the left half. The copying can be accomplished as follows: 4 4 A scheme involving two pistons and the (re)movable partition, but no rotation, also works. 4

5 1. If the original bit is 0, do nothing to the copy bit, which already was If the original bit is 1, rotate the copy box by 180 about an axis in its left-right midplane. After this, the molecule appears to be in the right half of the copy box, and is therefore in a 1 state as desired. No energy is expended in any of these steps. No heat flows. Hence, there is no (thermodynamic) entropy change in either the computer or in the environment. The rotation of the copy box by 180 is equivalent to the logical NOT operation. Thus, the copying procedure suggested above could be called a controlled-not operation, in which the NOT operation is performed only if a relevant control bit is in the 1 state. Since all computation involves changing 0 s into 1 s and vice versa, we get a preview of the important role of controlled-not operations in classical and quantum computation. Indeed, since all classical computation can be performed using logic gates based on controlled-controlled-not operations [12], the present example suggests that classical computation could in principle be performed at zero energy cost, and with an entropy cost associated only with erasure of the memory. 3 References [1] K.T. McDonald, Physics of Quantum Computation (Jan. 31, 2005; updated Nov. 30, 2007), [2] J.C. Maxwell, Letter to P.G. Tait (1867); The Theory of Heat (1871, reprinted by Dover Publications, New York, 2001), p [3] R. Landauer, Irreversibility and Heat Generation in the Computing Process, IBMJ. Res. Dev. 5, 183 (1961), [4] C.H. Bennett, Logical Reversibility of Computation, IBM J. Res. Dev. 17, 525 (1973), [5] C.H. Bennett, Notes on the history of reversible computation, IBMJ.Res.Dev.32, 16 (1988), [6] W.H. Zurek, Algorithmic Randomness, Physical Entropy, Measurements, and the Demon of Choice, (July 1, 1998), [7] R.P. Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Computation (Addison-Wesley, 1996). [8] C.H. Bennett, The Thermodynamics of Computation A Review, Int.J.Theor.Phys. 21, 905 (1982), [9] J. Bub, Maxwells Demon and the Thermodynamics of Computation, Stud. Hist. Phil. Mod. Phys. 32, 569 (1961), 5

6 [10] W.K. Wootters and W.H. Zurek, A single quantum cannot be cloned, Nature 299, (1982), [11] D. Dieks, Communication by EPR Devices, Physics Letters 92A, (1982), [12] E. Fredkin and T. Toffoli, Conservative Logic, Int. J. Theor. Phys. 21, 219 (1982), 6

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