The laws of physics say that you can’t get energy for nothing — worse still, you will always get out of a system less energy than you put in. But a nanoscale experiment inspired by a nineteenth-century paradox that seemed to break those laws now shows that you can generate energy from information.
Masaki Sano, a physicist at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues have demonstrated that a bead can be coaxed up a ‘spiral staircase’ without any energy being directly transferred to the bead to push it upwards. Instead, it is persuaded along its route by a series of judiciously timed decisions to change the height of the ‘steps’ around it, based on information about the bead’s position. In this sense, “information is being converted to energy”, says Sano.
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