Does Universal Controllability of Physical Systems Prohibit Thermodynamic Cycles?
Dominik Janzing, Paweł Wocjan
Open systems & information dynamics
Here we study the thermodynamic cost of computation and control using 'physically universal' cellular automata or Hamiltonians. The latter were previously defined as systems that admit the implementation of any desired transformation on a finite target region by first initializing the state of the surrounding and then letting the system evolve according to its autonomous dynamics. This way, one obtains a model of control where each region can play both roles the controller or the system to be
... ntrolled. In physically universal systems every degree of freedom is indirectly accessible by operating on the remaining degrees of freedom. In a nutshell, the thermodynamic cost of an operation is then given by the size of the region around the target region that needs to be initialized. In the meantime, physically universal CAs have been constructed by Schaeffer (in two dimensions) and Salo & Törmä (in one dimension). Here we show that in Schaeffer's CA the cost for implementing n operations grows linearly in n, while operating in a thermodynamic cycle requires sublinear growth to ensure zero cost *per operation* in the limit n→∞. Although this particular result need not hold for general physically universal CAs, this strong notion of universality does imply a certain kind of instability of information, which could result in lower bounds on the cost of protecting information from its noisy environment. The technical results of the paper are sparse and quite simple. The contribution of the paper is mainly conceptual and consists in illustrating the type of thermodynamic questions raised by models of control that rely on the concept of physical universality.