Deutsch was born in Haifa in Israel on 18 May 1953, the son of Oskar and Tikva Deutsch. He attended William Ellis School in Highgate, north London (then a voluntary aided grammar school) before reading Natural Sciences at Clare College, Cambridge and taking Part III of the Mathematical Tripos. He went on to Wolfson College, Oxford for his doctorate in theoretical physics and wrote his thesis on quantum field theory in curved space-time.
In the Royal Society of London's announcement that Deutsch had become a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2008, the Society described Deutsch's contributions thus:
David Deutsch laid the foundations of the quantum theory of computation, and has subsequently made or participated in many of the most important advances in the field, including the discovery of the first quantum algorithms, the theory of quantum logic gates and quantum computational networks, the first quantum error-correction scheme, and several fundamental quantum universality results. He has set the agenda for worldwide research efforts in this new, interdisciplinary field, made progress in understanding its philosophical implications (via a variant of the many-universes interpretation) and made it comprehensible to the general public, notably in his book The Fabric of Reality.
His published work on quantum algorithms began with a ground-breaking 1985 paper, later expanded in 1992 along with Richard Jozsa to produce the Deutsch–Jozsa algorithm, one of the first examples of a quantum algorithm that is exponentially faster than any possible deterministic classical algorithm.
In 1987 he appeared in the BBC Horizon programme; "The Anthropic Principle".
He is currently working on constructor theory, an attempt at generalizing the quantum theory of computation to cover not just computation but all physical processes.
Together with Chiara Marletto, he published a paper in December 2014 entitled Constructor theory of information, that conjectures that information can be expressed solely in terms of which transformations of physical systems are possible and which are impossible.
He was awarded the Dirac Prize of the Institute of Physics in 1998, and the Edge of Computation Science Prize in 2005. The Fabric of Reality was shortlisted for the Rhone-Poulenc science book award in 1998. In 2017 he received the Dirac Medal of the ICTP.
In his 1997 book The Fabric of Reality, Deutsch details his "Theory of Everything." It aims not at the reduction of everything to particle physics, but rather mutual support among multiversal, computational, epistemological, and evolutionary principles. His theory of everything is somewhat emergentist rather than reductive.
There are "four strands" to his theory:
- Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, "the first and most important of the four strands."
- Karl Popper's epistemology, especially its anti-inductivism and requiring a realist (non-instrumental) interpretation of scientific theories, as well as its emphasis on taking seriously those bold conjectures that resist falsification.
- Alan Turing's theory of computation, especially as developed in Deutsch's Turing principle, in which the Universal Turing machine is replaced by Deutsch's universal quantum computer. ("The theory of computation is now the quantum theory of computation.")
- Richard Dawkins's refinement of Darwinian evolutionary theory and the modern evolutionary synthesis, especially the ideas of replicator and meme as they integrate with Popperian problem-solving (the epistemological strand).
Deutsch's second book, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World, was published on 31 March 2011. In this book Deutsch views the Enlightenment of the 18th century as near the beginning of a potentially unending sequence of purposeful knowledge creation. He examines the nature of memes and how and why creativity evolved in humans.
Deutsch is an atheist. He is also a founding member of the parenting and educational method known as Taking Children Seriously.