Abstract

The origin and history of Landauer’s principle is traced through the development of the thermodynamics of computation at IBM from 1959 to 1982. This development was characterized by multiple conceptual shifts: memory came to be seen not as information storage, but as delayed information transmission; information itself was seen not as a disembodied logical entity, but as participating in the physical world; and logical irreversibility was connected with physical, thermodynamic, irreversibility. These conceptual shifts were characterized by an ambivalence opposing strong metaphysical claims to practical considerations. Three sorts of practical considerations are discussed. First, these conceptual shifts engaged materials central to IBM’s business practice. Second, arguments for metaphysical certainties were made with reference to the practical functioning of typical computers. Third, arguments for metaphysical certainties were made in the context of establishing the thermodynamics of information as a sub-discipline of physics.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9274
Print ISSN
1063-6145
Pages
pp. 112-141
Launched on MUSE
2015-12-30
Open Access
No
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