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Tantalizing Tech
Are You Ready For Quantum Computing?

Researchers have made a breakthrough in quantum computing, the new frontier in today’s information economy. As the BBC reports, IBM scientists have pioneered a new method for correcting errors, paving a possible road past one of the technology’s biggest obstacles:

[Q]uantum machines [theoretically have] much greater computational power than conventional types. But quantum information is fragile, and errors in calculations carried out in a quantum system can creep in through interference from factors such as heat, electromagnetic radiation and defects in materials.

Controlling or removing such errors is one of the great challenges for harnessing the power of quantum computing…Prof Alan Woodward, a computing expert from the University of Surrey, UK, said the work represented a step forward, but was a “significant evolution” rather than a “revolution”.

Even as the world staggers and reels from the impacts of the information revolution, there is much more yet to come. The pace of technological change is accelerating, and while much of it is iterative, on aggregate it promises enormously creative and disruptive solutions to problems that may seem insurmountable today.

The Malthusians of the world choose to see humanity in the worst possible light, as some kind of blight on pristine nature, but fortunately our future is not nearly as bleak as they’d have you believe. Technology is moving our economies away from industrial production to information manipulation, and the farther we travel into that transition, the more we’re finding ourselves able to do more with less. That intensification can expedite development around the world even as it lessens the impact we have on our surrounding environment, and as scary as these rapid changes may appear, they hold plenty of promise for future generations.

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  • Enemy Leopard

    I doubt this is the appropriate place for a technical discussion of quantum computing, and I’m not an expert in the field. But I can at least give my impression of the writings of Scott Aaronson, who is an expert: Quantum computers cannot by their nature do anything that a classical computer cannot; they can only do the same things much, much faster. For example, a quantum computer can factor integers in polynomial time with respect to their length, effectively allowing them to break classical encryption algorithms; it’s an open question whether this is possible with a standard computer. The practical implications of this aren’t clear to me: If the NSA builds a secret quantum computer and nobody else changes their technology, that’s great! (or terrible, depending on your perspective?), as they’ll be able to listen to everybody’s messages without anybody else being the wiser. But if everybody builds a quantum computer, it seems to me that the playing field may be, in a sense, not that different from the status quo ante.

    On the other hand, quantum networks (that is, different computers communicating over a quantum connection, such as those used to transmit the results of a recent Swiss election) can in theory do new things. Namely, it’s possible to have provably secure information transfer over a quantum network (up to a vanishingly small probability of error); nature itself makes it impossible to eavesdrop undetected, as the act of listening to your messages actually changes their content. The theoretical limitations of this aren’t clear to me, however, as – again – it’s not my field of expertise.

    If any experts believe this to be an incorrect impression, I’d be happy to be corrected.

    • Anthony

      Keep contributing because from where I read your offerings continue to enrich…

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