What’s the Computing Power of the Universe?

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This is a repost from October 1, 2011. I’m still fascinated with the topic of the Singularity and whether harnessing all matter in order to do computing/thought is the ultimate goal of our existence.

Happy 5776!

Having spent the past 75 hours without Internet access, I’ve had a chance to think a little bit more about the expansiveness of the universe and where we’re going in it.

What is the computational power of the universe if all matter could be harnessed for computing and how long would it take before we could get there?

Here are some back-of-the-napkin calculations:

Computations per second per kg of matter
There are already some thoughts on this. Ray Kurzweil in The Singularity Is Near discusses quantum computing and the theoretical limit of 1 kg of matter being able to process

computations per second (CPS).

Matter in the universe
Using Sir Fred Hoyle’s estimation of matter in the universe, based on a steady-state universe, we end up getting


OK, so handy multiplication gives us CPS / kg x [mass of universe] or

Total computational power of the universe:


or 800 googol CPS… at that amount, we can probably be safe to say 1 googol FLOP.

Extending Moore’s Law — that the power of processing doubles every two years — beyond the end of transistors, we need to find out how many doublings we need to accomplish to get to this large number. First, we need to know what is today’s record.

Current computing record (2011)
The record holding computer as of today is the K Computer at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe (record set June 2011 — written here October 1, 2011 and soon to be very dated). The processing power of this computer is 8 PetaFLOPS or


Time until we reach the computational power of the universe
If we let n be the number of doublings until we get to this level, we get this:


Multiplying n by two to get the number of years:


So, in 246 years, we’ll reach the computational power of the universe of more or less a googol calculations per second. The year will be 2257 in the Gregorian calendar, 1678 in the Muslim calendar, 1636 in the Persian calendar, and 6018 in the Hebrew calendar.

Of course, there are some huge assumptions with these calculations:

  • The numbers used above are correct
  • Moore’s Law will continue to hold
  • We can get access to distant matter for computing
  • I haven’t made any ridiculous & glaringly obvious math mistakes
  • I’m not missing other hugely obvious assumptions

Enjoy… and happy 5772!

PS — Some interest readings:

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Wikipedia on the Observable Universe
Wikipedia on Moore’s Law
Japan Reclaims Top Ranking on Latest TOP500 List of World’s Supercomputers

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Independent daily thoughts on all things future, voice technologies and AI. More at http://linkedin.com/in/grebler

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