Wolpert, David H.

I give a quick overview of some of the theoretical background necessary for using modern nonequilibrium statistical physics to investigate the thermodynamics of computation. I first present some of the necessary concepts from information theory, and then introduce some of the most important types of computational machine considered in computer science theory. After this I present a central result from modern nonequilibrium statistical physics: an exact expression for the entropy flow out of a system undergoing a given dynamics with a given initial distribution over states. This central expression is crucial for analyzing how the total entropy flow out of a computer depends on its global structure, since that global structure determines the initial distributions into all of the computer’s subsystems, and therefore (via the central expression) the entropy flows generated by all of those subsystems. I illustrate these results by analyzing some of the subtleties concerning the benefits that are sometimes claimed for implementing an irreversible computation with a reversible circuit constructed out of Fredkin gates.