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Correlation-powered information engines and the thermodynamics of self-correction.


Information engines can use structured environments as a resource to generate work by randomizing ordered inputs and leveraging the increased Shannon entropy to transfer energy from a thermal reservoir to a work reservoir. We give a broadly applicable expression for the work production of an information engine, generally modeled as a memoryful channel that communicates inputs to outputs as it interacts with an evolving environment. The expression establishes that an information engine must have more than one memory state in order to leverage input environment correlations. To emphasize this functioning, we designed an information engine powered solely by temporal correlations and not by statistical biases, as employed by previous engines. Key to this is the engine's ability to synchronize-the engine automatically returns to a desired dynamical phase when thrown into an unwanted, dissipative phase by corruptions in the input-that is, by unanticipated environmental fluctuations. This self-correcting mechanism is robust up to a critical level of corruption, beyond which the system fails to act as an engine. We give explicit analytical expressions for both work and critical corruption level and summarize engine performance via a thermodynamic-function phase diagram over engine control parameters. The results reveal a thermodynamic mechanism based on nonergodicity that underlies error correction as it operates to support resilient engineered and biological systems.

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