Life Science

Of Qubits and Transitors

Hello,

Here we are, at the beginning of the 21st century, in the year twenty fourteen, taking small steps towards the science of the “future”.

Recently in the news two items have been making their way into our orbits(at least for me): one is that according to leaked documents the NSA is actively working on developing a working quantum computer and the other is that Isaac Asimov foresaw some 50 years ago at least in part how things would turn out in 2014.

Thanks to the great Foundation Library that we call “the Internet” I found a listing of the original New York Times article by Isaac Asimov called “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014”:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/lifetimes/asi-v-fair.html

Quickly scanning it we see that he got some things right: he predicted smartphones for one. And more. He was indeed a visionary, a man not constrained by the limits of his times.

And then there is the issue of the quantum computer that has been bothering me lately.  I usually go to BBC for objective, no-fluff, news articles. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25588605

The fact that the NSA has its own evil purposes to evolve computing matters less to me at the moment. After all, the first great computer was created in an effort to crack German encrypted war messages. What bothers me, on an intellectual level, is that this things called “quantum computer” are more than a fantasy.

See, like many people born in the 20th century I never really accepted quantum physics as being “real”. I feel that it’s highly probabilistic and theoretical models do not fit with the world that I can observe using my primitive human senses. It feels like fantasy Sci-Fi if I may use this term(think Star Wars and not so much Star Trek). And yet, quantum physicists seem to be making breakthroughs everyday in proving their theory. Maybe that’s because it’s not really a theory… you can predict anything if you say that everything has a probability of being through between 0% and 99,(9)%.

I remember reading as a child about a phenomenon called now “quantum entanglement”. At that time it was regarded as an anomaly that disproved Einstein’s theory in the sense that it “seemed” somehow information was traveling at a speed far greater than the speed of light. Quantum physics to the rescue! They explain this state of interaction by a property of particles… I won’t ramble on with details, Google can explain a lot better than I can.

So, imagine my bewilderment reading about a computer based on quantum incertitude and entanglement. They want to use quantum states(with their damn probabilities) to represent bits of data – qubits. And they want to use entangled counterparts to the qubits to read the data. What? And yet it seems it could be done someday…

I think now that I must be experiencing the same puzzlement that an early 20th century average person must have felt reading about transistors and semiconductors. I probably take that whole nonsense about electrons and empty spaces for granted as true just because I learned about it in school from people I trusted.

Some day our children will learn about qubits just like we learned about bytes. Intel will be making quantum CPU or QCPUs??

I don’t know. What do you think?

Oh, and here’s an article that’s supposed to reassure you that quantum computers are just theory and the American public is safe from the evil crackers at NSA:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/02/confused-about-the-nsas-quantum-computing-project-this-mit-computer-scientist-can-explain/

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