By 2026 — my passport will still be valid, it’s so five-minutes-from-now — there may be quantum computers that can do in a second what today’s most powerful take 45 minutes to complete. Read How Google’s Quantum Computer Could Change the World. And it’s not just Google hot on this trail, as the Wall Street Journal explains.
It will change everything, with all manner of scary (and a few glorious) implications.
. . . “It isn’t just a faster computer of the kind that we’re used to. It’s a fundamentally new way of harnessing nature to do computations,” says Scott Aaronson, the head of the Quantum Information Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “People ask, ‘Well, is it a thousand times faster? Is it a million times faster?’ It all depends on the application. It could do things in a minute that we don’t know how to do classically in the age of the universe. For other types of tests, a quantum computer probably helps you only modestly or, in some cases, not at all.”
For nearly three decades, these machines were considered the stuff of science fiction. Just a few years ago, the consensus on a timeline to large-scale, reliable quantum computers was 20 years to never.
“Nobody is saying never anymore,” says Scott Totzke, the chief executive of Isara Corp., a Canadian firm developing encryption resistant to quantum computers, which threaten to crack current methods. “We are in the very, very early days, but we are well past the science-fiction point.”
Companies and universities around the world are racing to build these machines, and Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., appears to be in the lead. Early next year, Google’s quantum computer will face its acid test in the form of an obscure computational problem that would take a classical computer billions of years to complete. Success would mark “quantum supremacy,” the tipping point where a quantum computer accomplishes something previously impossible. It’s a milestone computer scientists say will mark a new era of computing, and the end of what you might call the classical age. . . .
“Classical” is a funny word to use in connection with something so new — I’m older than the first UNIVAC computer — but apparently “bits” may soon be replaced by “qubits.”
“What’s a cubit?” a certain now-disgraced comedian famously asked God when, as Noah, he was commanded to build an ark “300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.” But trust me: qubits are waaaaay more difficult to understand. The Journal says Bill Gates acknowledges he can’t follow the PowerPoints he’s presented on this — and quotes the magnificent Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
Yet — like electricity that most of us don’t understand either — it seems to work.
. . . Adding one bit negligibly increases a classical chip’s computing power, but adding one qubit doubles the power of a quantum chip. A 300-bit classical chip could power (roughly) a basic calculator, but a 300-qubit chip has the computing power of two novemvigintillion bits—a two followed by 90 zeros—a number that exceeds the atoms in the universe.
Trump sees a future in coal.
Oh, how we need, instead, a leader like this one.
Click to see who I mean and what he’s up to. If you’re like me, it will bring a tear to your eye — and fresh hope for the future.
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Triumphant wife to down-and-out husband: I've consolidated all our bills into one missed payment.~Frank Cotham cartoon in the October 11, 1999, New Yorker
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