Baby Steps, Lumpy Pants and Quantum Computing
I am attracted to science because of its paradoxes, such as the necessity for focus and careful consideration of cause versus correlation that’s harbored inside of those fully engaged imaginations that bubble with the curiosity and inspiration to make quantum leaps.
In the January 23, 2009 Science, a true quantum leap was reported – a leap to quantum computing.
It turns out there are these things called qubits that are about as indecisive as me trying to choose between the pants that make me look lumpy and the ones that make me look fat: ask me about one, and it’s destroyed as an option — leaving me clinging to the only remaining choice — until you ask me about that too. Qubits are the same way. They hold multiple states at the same time; they are quantum. But ask them to make a choice? It destroys them.
Knowing more about shopping than I do, or at least decision-making while shopping, these ingenious scientists used this property to induce a qubit and a couple of atoms into true quantum computing. First they zapped an atom, exciting one of its electrons into one of these understandably undecided states. (After all, how do you feel when someone zaps you with microwaves for no known reason? ) Then they used lasers to entangle this atom with another, creating an entangled pair of quantum identities. In other words, one of these atoms is just like the other…causing the qubit to be shared between the two atoms.
So what happens next? The scientists simply teleport. Seriously. They teleport the qubit from the first atom to the second.
I watched The Fly starring Vincent Price when I was a child, and I would not recommend trying this teleportation thing at home. Anyhow, once the entanglement ends, you have two atoms with the same qubit. Ask the qubit with the first atom to decide, and voila, it’s destroyed. You’re left with a teleported qubit hanging out with the other atom.
So why all the excitement? This is a crucial baby step in super-fast quantum computing. It’s a bit slow, cumbersome and expensive at the moment, but just wait. You thought your Centrino 2 chip and dual-core processors were fast? Wait until your computer can hold information in multiple states — and selectively teleport it.
Now, if only I could get as inspired about one of those pairs of pants.