Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On Quantum Computing

A followup to the story on quantum computing; a private email from a commenter included a link to an interview with Dr. Eric Ladizinsky, Chief Scientist at D-Wave, the company working on the quantum computer contract I talked about Monday (and who seem to have an interesting video library I think I need to poke through) 

There's a tremendous amount of interesting detail thrown around in that interview, and it really stuck its hooks deep into my brain.

Quantum physics describes conditions that seem alien to us because they deal with a world we can't see everyday.  Photons, "particles" of light, can act like waves or particles depending on how we treat them.  In perhaps the most famous example, "Schroedinger's cat", Dr. Schroedinger speculated about a cat in a box with a radioactive emitter, constructing the thought experiment to explain how the cat was both fully alive and fully dead at the the same time. Part of the puzzle is we don't understand why we don't see these behaviors all around us.  After all, quantum behaviors are very visible in the ultra-microscopic world of subatomic particles and atoms, but we're made of atoms, just as is everything else we see.  Dr. Ladizinsky talks about the fact that in his quantum computer, a loop of super cold niobium wire has all of its electrons going in one direction and at the exact same time the same piece of wire has all of its electrons going in the opposite direction.  Their niobium wire is exhibiting quantum behavior in a macroscopic object.

I've heard quantum mechanics poetically described as, "the dreams that stuff is made of", and I've heard it said, "if you're not shocked by what it says, you haven't understood it".  It was the perfect example of a theoretical pursuit that had no practical use for so long that it's interesting to see it turning into (potentially) multibillion dollar industry.

1 comment:

  1. Physicist and SF author Travis S. Taylor once quipped that if you find yourself suddenly understanding quantum physics, don't be alarmed; you're not crazy, it's the rest of Nature.

    Unfortunately, sitting very still for a long time doesn't seem to help.