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Balancing error and dissipation in computing


Modern digital electronics support remarkably reliable computing, especially given the challenge of controlling nanoscale logical components that interact in fluctuating environments. However, we demonstrate that the high-reliability limit is subject to a fundamental error-energy-efficiency tradeoff that arises from time-symmetric control: Requiring a low probability of error causes energy consumption to diverge as the logarithm of the inverse error rate for nonreciprocal logical transitions. The reciprocity (self-invertibility) of a computation is a stricter condition for thermodynamic efficiency than logical reversibility (invertibility), the latter being the root of Landauer's work bound on erasing information. Beyond engineered computation, the results identify a generic error-dissipation tradeoff in steady-state transformations of genetic information carried out by biological organisms. The lesson is that computational dissipation under time-symmetric control cannot reach, and is often far above, the Landauer limit. In this way, time-asymmetry becomes a design principle for thermodynamically efficient computing.

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