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January 6, 2009

Vague research question: Atoms vs. bits

How far back does the “atoms vs. bits” idea go? Did anyone talk about it before Nicholas Negroponte in “Being Digital“?

Some specifications of what I’m looking for:

– It has to be actual bits, i.e., binary units of information. So, no fair tracing it back to Plato’s Cave.

– I’m not asking about Negroponte’s particular idea in “Being Digital,” which contrasted economies built on atoms with ones built on bits. I’m actually interested in the sense that there are two semi-equivalent realities, one built of atoms and one built of bits.

– I’m not looking for “Its are bits” physicists who say the universe is made of information. I’m looking for the idea that bits are different from atoms, but deserve to be on a roughly equal footing…at least to the extent that the phrase “atoms vs. bits” makes sense the way “atoms vs. weekends” does not.

Any pointers, corrections, or exasperated sighs are gratefully accepted.

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