The Weird and wonderful


At various times the words ‘Quantum computing’ and ‘Quantum mechanics’ as well as ‘Quantum nano computers’ were mentioned in past posts.

There is a good reason for that because whilst on the one hand the whole quantum business is really weird, on the other it is wonderfully amazing and it is not long now before some startling computing results can be expected.

That means that for us mere mortals the concepts will begin to have greater meaning so we need to know a little more than just the name ‘quantum computing’.

Take a deep breath and be ready for some strange but true facts about quantum mechanics. In the early 20th century some clever scientists [In a Galaxy not far away] came up with the theory that told us that our world as we see it is not, in fact, how the world is or how it works.

The theory did away with our old notions of how the universe functioned and replaced them wholesale with a new reality that deals in probabilities rather than in certainties.

quantum-computingIf that wasn’t enough of an upheaval we were presented with some truly mind-bending implications like that atomic particles fundamentally are neither here nor there, but can be both here and there at the same time until observed, and to add to the spookiness two can be linked so that if you do something to one the change is felt instantly by the other, even across vast reaches of space. The socalled ‘entanglement’ confounded even the originators of the theory. As Niels Bohr said: “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet”.

Nevertheless, it is exactly such behavioural effects that when harnessed can be put to good use, and we now have the gizmos to outperform and accomplish things once only dreamt about. Already the improvement to atomic clocks e.g. makes them more accurate compared to the previous satellite positioning based clocks, which will make self-driving cars safer and more reliable and allow for such clocks being able to measure tiny variations in gravity. That would be useful for spotting underground pipes without digging, or track submarines far below the waves.
Closer to home is messaging without anyone else reading your mail or message. Signals encoded using the entangled or superimposed particles cannot be intercepted or copied and passed on. Needless to say, that will have lots of companies and governments interested, and China has a satellite up there already capable of receiving and rerouting such signals, with an unhackable network to follow.

computer-jokeSmall quantum computers are not far away, say 3 to 5 years according to Google, and meanwhile quantum high-security networks are in development that will allow such computers to chomp their way through calculations which would take today’s best supercomputers millennia.

When you think about it there are similarities to the early 1990s when the internet was largely something done in the laboratories by scientists and then gradually developing its potential through industry, governments and continued research.

quantumdilbertIn the case of quantum technology most of the remaining challenges are largely engineering rather than scientific ones, and the exciting thing is of course the untapped potential. Right now the experts’ record of predicting the next use is a spotty record indeed. Thomas Edison thought his Phonograph’s future would be in elocution lessons!

Quantum computing and quantum gizmos and quantum technology are at the beginning of a new era and perhaps ‘quantum’ which to most people still means ‘weird’, it will in the coming years come to mean ‘better’.

Whilst for Kapiti SeniorNet members the direct use of quantum computers may be some years off we shall undoubtedly see their use in research, industry, medicine and by Governments that will lead to new inventions, innovations and really weird things I can’t even begin to imagine.

Meanwhile I’ll struggle on with the old and trusted gizmos. Happy computing.