Understanding entropy as a subjective measure allows the universe as a whole to evolve without ever losing information. Even as parts of the universe, such as coffee, engines and people, experience rising entropy as their quantum information dilutes, the global entropy of the universe stays forever zero.
Renato Renner, a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, described this as a radical shift in perspective. Fifteen years ago, “we thought of entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system,” he said. “Now in information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”
Moreover, the idea that energy has two forms, useless heat and useful work, “made sense for steam engines,” Renner said. “In the new way, there is a whole spectrum in between — energy about which we have partial information.”
Entropy and thermodynamics are “much less of a mystery in this new view,” he said. “That’s why people like the new view better than the old one.”