Monday, February 19, 2007

Quantum computing - Breakthrough AND sham??

I've been writing about quantum computing in The Guardian and Techworld. I also did a phone interview for Ireland's RTE radio.

There is one company in the world - D-Wave - that has persuaded venture capitalists to put money behind the idea that quantum computers (which to put it crudely, could perform billions of calculations in parallel universes) are one day going to be a commercial reality.
And last week D-Wave performaned a demonstration, in its labs, and transmitted it to two other sites.

Ars Technica makes the point that D-Wave, like Schrodinger's cat and the "qubits" in a quantum computer, is now in two states superposed. No-one got their hands on the device, so we still don't know if it was a breakthrough or an optimistic case of smoke and mirrors.

We do know that the 16 qubits had a limited flexibility owing to their topology (each is connected to a maximum of eight others, instead of every other qubit). We also know that D-Wave is not claiming this computer beats anything that can be done by a quite ordinary PC.

And Ars Technica suspects (as do we all) that the demonstration was aimed at shareholders they would eventually get a return for their money.


Martin Millar said...

Moving quantum computing on a few years, is there any prospect of developing one powerful enough to replicate every human thought/firing neuron/whatever, thereby allowing people to replicate themselves completely in some sort of cyber space, and consequently not die?

Peter Judge said...

I don't know.

I guess if you think of a brain as being made up of a finite number of neurons then eventually you can simulate one, just as you can eventually simulate other processes.

But would the replication actually be "you"? Would there be two "yous"? My instincts tell me the replication wouldn't be me.

Why do we feel there is something "different" about consciousness, even if it's a physical process that is no more complex than other processes?

Interestingly enough, one explanation people have come up with is to suggest that our brains feel different to the rest of the world because the physics actually is different - that the brain is itself some sort of quantum computer.

There's a great book called The Emperor's New Mind that goes into this...