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Tech Q&A

Leonard Susskind

Describe your latest project.
At the moment I am writing a book called the Black Hole War. It's the story of one of the great controversies of modern physics concerning the mysterious fate of information that falls into a black hole. For two decades an intellectual war took place between Stephen Hawking, on the one side, and myself and Gerard 't Hooft on the other. The book is about the scientific revolution that the controversy spawned, but also about the colorful personalities and the passions that gave the story its drama. The story starts in Werner Ehrhardt's Mansion in San Francisco, and eventually passes through all seven continents, including Antarctica.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
Let me quote from the preface to my book The Cosmic Landscape:

I have always enjoyed explaining physics. In fact it's more than just enjoyment: I need to explain physics. A lot of my research time is spent daydreaming — telling an imaginary admiring audience of laymen how to understand some difficult scientific idea. I suppose I am a bit of a ham, but it's more than that. It's part of the way I think: a mental tool for organizing my ideas and even creating new ways of thinking about problems. So it was natural that at some point I would decide to try my hand at writing a book for a general audience.

Chess or video games?
I'm exceedingly bad at both. One of my best friends, the great physicist Yakir Aharonov, once tried to teach me chess — not the rules but how to play well. We played for ten minutes and I was losing so badly that we decided to turn the board around so that he would take my position and I, his. We played for another ten minutes and again, I was almost demolished. So we turned the board around again. How many times we did this I don't remember.

I should add that Yakir was an Israeli chess master who once played Bobby Fischer. He lost.

What do you do for relaxation?
I read a great deal. Mostly fiction but also non-fiction. I have a lot of favorites — Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Philip Roth, Barry Unsworth, A. B. Yehoshua, for modern fiction — Jon Krakauer and V. S. Naipaul for nonfiction.

What's your favorite blog right now?
Arianna Huffington's blog. Science blogs bore me. When everyone is an expert, no one is an expert.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I was also very influenced, as were many physicists of my generation, by George Gamow's wonderful little book One Two Three Infinity.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
I'm afraid I am a bit of a technophobe — a nineteenth-century man caught in the twenty-first century. But there is one piece of technology that I would especially welcome: a device to automatically balance restaurant tables on all four legs so that they don't rock back and forth.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Oh, that's easy. I think the answer would be the same for any physicist: Albert Einstein when he had the great Aha! moment that led to the Special Theory of Relativity.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Best: math; worst: English. I loved to read but it took me a very long time to develop my own voice as a writer.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
Balance restaurant tables. But aside from that, they do far more than I am ever likely to explore.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
The United States is far ahead. The reason is the enormous superiority of American universities. That won't change in ten years.

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