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Information, Please

Betting on whether data disappear down black holes

7:29pm, September 20, 2004

Can the universe keep a secret? Suppose you realize there's incriminating evidence in your diary. You could shred the diary to bits, but a tenacious detective could reassemble them into the original document. You could burn your diary, but physicists will tell you that—at least in theory—the ash, carbon dioxide, and other products of the combustion provide all the information needed to reconstruct every page. Desperate, you resort to the ultimate solution: Drop the diary into a black hole. Surely, your secret will be safe there.

Until recently, the celebrated University of Cambridge cosmologist Stephen J. Hawking would have agreed with you. But after n

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