Monday, January 16, 2012

Quantum computing is here...in a way


Ahhh quantum computers.  That carrot that has been dangled in front of the tech world's nose for a while now.

Imagine a machine that can not only make calculations that current computers would find impossible but one that can carry them out in milliseconds.  Quantum computers eschew the oh so pedestrian notion of binary data utilized by digital computers for quibits, data packets and operations based on quantum mechanics...which I don't even pretend to understand.  But I've read that as it pertains to computing, the idea is to implement read/write devices that use photons.  In light (no pun intended) of these wondrous by still unproven prospects, you can imagine the skeptical eyebrows that were raised when Lockheed paid a company called D-Wave $10 million for a quantum computer operating on a 128-qubit chip.  But wait!  There's more!  D-Wave alleges that they now have a 512-qubit chip but nobody has seen anything of it yet as tests are still ongoing.

As you might imagine, the military is eager to get on board with this new wave.  Popular Science reports that the Air Force have been experimenting with quantum computers composed of holograms.  The holograms reportedly render the photons into a much more stable and therefore more malleable state.  By all accounts, this work is very much still in its incipient stages.  That also tends to cast a bit of doubt on D-Wave's claims but who's to say?

It appears that the key to true quantum computers will be nanotechnology.  As if on cue, a team of researchers from three different universities announced last week that they had succeeded in creating a fundamental piece of nanotechnology: a wire that is only four atoms wide and one atom high and conducts electricity just like any regular-size copper wire.  Sort of makes you want to throw all your current technology in the trash and just wait for the new line, doesn't it?  I'm kidding.

Whenever I read of developments such as this, my thoughts always leap beyond the conventional towards the more lofty.  To me, this isn't just the promise of faster computations or better cryptography, it's an open door towards artificial intelligence.  Granted not everyone is excited about the idea of a perspicacious computer that can think for itself, but I'm fascinated with the potential for AI. 

That is until it assumes control of all of our defense systems and calls itself SkyNet.


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