Messages scrambled by black holes stand their ground against quantum computers

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      Black holes are nature’s fastest data-scramblers, and new research suggests that secrets thrown into them may be more secure than previously thought. In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the US show that once a message has been scrambled by a black hole or another system with similar properties, not even a quantum computer can put it back together.

      Scramblers are quantum systems that take local information and spread it across the entire system, generating quantum entanglement between distant regions. They crop up in various contexts in physics. While black holes are perhaps the most famous example, scramblers also exist in simple systems such as spin chains – 1D arrangements of quantum particles with coupling between nearest neighbours – and in “strange” metals, in which resistivity depends atypically on temperature.

      Although the scrambling process is deterministic – a fixed input yields a fixed output – scrambling systems can give rise to tremendously complex behaviour, distributing information in seemingly random fashion. This emergence of apparent randomness is known as quantum chaos, in analogy with classical chaos theory, where similarly simple systems produce equally intricate dynamics.

      Physicists working at the intersection of quantum mechanics and gravity are interested in scramblers in part thanks to the so-called black hole information paradox. The paradox revolves around the ultimate fate of information that falls past the event horizon and into a black hole: after a message is scrambled across the surface of a black hole, is its information trapped in the black hole forever, or does it somehow manage to escape? One school of thought holds that information does escape from black holes in the form of photons emitted via a process known as Hawking radiation. This theory received some corroboration in 2019, but the jury is still out.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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