Tuesday, May 21, 2013

And the World Changed...last Thursday...courtesy Burnaby, British Columbia

BBN had a big contract to implement TCP/IP, but their stuff didn't work, and grad student Joy's stuff worked. So they had this big meeting and this grad student in a T-shirt shows up, and they said, "How did you do this?" And Bill said, "It's very simple — you read the protocol and write the code." John Gage on Bill Joy from Wikipedia
 Did you feel it last Thursday? The slight tremor creasing through the fabric of human intellectual activity that is our culture? Did you feel a moment of joy, wonderment, pause, excitement as you and the rest of our species simultaneously realized that a NASA/Google consortium purchased the world's first 512 qubit quantum computer?  You may not have noticed anything. Just like you may not have felt anything that day sometime in the 1980s when Bill Joy finished putting a TCP/IP stack on BSD.  Or that moment in 1945 at  Alamogordo.  

But I can nearly assure all of you, that if the fruits of quantum computing haven't quite yet appeared in our hip pockets, they will.  And this will change everything. Scientific revolutions don't happen overnight.  Quantum computing as a discipline now has an established history.  But the recent sale from our neighbors DWave Systems (in Burnaby!) may well be a  Trinity moment in history: a break when our thought and engineering shifts from classical to quantum for all the salient problems of our age: energy, computation, manufacturing, genetics. 

Let's face it. We were never really going to solve quantum problems with classical computing models. Not really. The best simulations we have been doing require so much computing and approximation that world changing realities like micro-fusion, space-time travel, nano-technology or genetic engineering are either simply stalled or constrained at such limited levels of development that broad progress has been limited. And this is a real problem as 7 billion plus people move toward first world consumption habits. 

Predictions are for an expanding human population throughout this century. Whether we will be 10 billion by 2050 or 2099 is not quite clear. But what is clear is that the age of man has brought ever increasing competition for the dwindling resources needed to sustain us : a nasty reality that left unabated will bring ever nasty consequences. Malthusians and "limits to growth" types have been insisting on population control and "powering down" highly consumptive economies. This is probably not going to happen by force of political policy or moral suasion.

How would we compare the difference between quantum and classical computing?. Here's a Powershell derived 3.0 example. A 512 qubit computer reputedly has the ability to process 2^501 bits. (Our current laptops work at 64 bit).  Even if we assume classical computing at a Terabyte data  (2^43 bits) bandwidth, then:


 $quantum / $TB

Some quantum scientist somewhere is laughing at my math! But it's been 24 years since I first stared into a eight inch green on black Wang terminal to look at my first database. And 40 years since I first handled IBM Hollerith style  punch cards in my grandfather's studio.  I don't think the shift to quantum computing will take anywhere near that long. In fact, I know that it won't. 

DWave Systems, Bellinghammers.  Look them up. They are your neighbors; inventing the future now.