The Quantum Computer

Chapter 6 from A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin.

“Men always want to tinker with the computer, she said, take it apart, add memory and peripherals, and so forth, while the women concentrate on more important things like sending out hundreds of email invitations to a wedding shower.”

“Women just seem to intuitively understand better than men that how a thing works matters much less than what one uses it for.”

“However, quantum computation has a terrible Achilles heel that become clear when one confronts the problem of reading out the answer: the effects that distinguish quantum computers from conventional ones also cause quantum indeterminism. Quantum-mechanical wave functions do indeed evolve deterministically, but the process of turning them into signals people can read generates errors.”

“Thus the frenzy over quantum computing misses the point that the physical basis of computational reliability is emergent Newtonianness. One can imagine doing a computation without exploiting these principles, just as one can imagine proving by brute force that broken symmetry occurs, but a much more likely outcome is that eliminating computational mistakes will prove to be fundamentally impossible because its physical basis is absent. The view that this problem is trivial is a fantasy spun out of reductionist beliefs. Naturally, I hope that I am wrong, and I wish those who invest in quantum computing the best of luck.”

“One of the more interesting trends of the computer age is that physical science students are increasingly unwilling or unable to write computer code. I was very upset when I first observed this and took stern measures in my department to counteract it … Eventually, however, I realized that the students were right and I was wrong, and stopped the crusade. … The truth is that it is no longer cost-effective for most well-educated people to program their own computers, or even to learn how to do so. The wise use of time is to spend a few bucks to buy a program that does what one wants or, in extreme cases, search the internet for free software.”

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