Monday, July 17, 2017

Screwing Up on Quantum Computing

Well, I screwed that up.

In the next Physics Frontiers podcast, recorded about six months ago (approx. 1/27), Randy and I talked about photonics and quantum computing. The papers we read were very interesting and we had a good time talking about them, although we got a little bit confused (as my memory serves me, I believe that happens in the next episode as well). During the episode I went off on three digressions that I probably shouldn't have: science fiction, quantum computing, and economics and politics. I cut out all of the economics and politics bits (again). I left in the quantum computing, and that's what this is about.

I first read a journal article and had discussions with reasonably technical people about quantum computing in the 90's, before 1998 and after 1995 based on the people I was talking to. The whole idea that someone could construct an algorithm for a computer of a type that didn't exist yet really intrigued me at that point, and since one of my majors was "theoretical mathematics" (I think that's what the track name for all that abstract algebra and number theory stuff was at that school), figuring things about like how to factor large numbers very quickly was interesting to me. The applications to cryptography, not so much. But, the state of the art at that time was a sheet of paper and a proof, so my marginal interest in the subject didn't really go anywhere.

I've occasionally looked in on quantum computing from time to time since then. I've read a couple of technical books on the subject, for example, and I'll read articles about it when I actually have time to crack open one or two the Science and Nature magazines that clutter up my office. So, although I'm certainly not an expert (I'm not an expert about anything we talk about on Physics Frontiers), I certainly didn't think anything really astounding had happened. I was pretty sure a couple of people had put together a small number of qubits in one or the other of the ultracold settings.

I had no idea that Google and IBM had them up and running.

That's what my phone told me today, about lunchtime.

I think that I had heard that quantum computer simulators existed, and so some of my comments were just thoughtless ("people who design algorithms for computers that don't exist and then mathematically prove they'll run correctly" or something like that), but the fact that IBM has a 17 bit quantum processor up and running and they're giving people beta access with an SDK for Python makes some of my comments laughable. And of course, Google's up to the same thing.

It's amazing how fast these things are developing.

Oh well. The episode's already short, so I won't edit anything more out. You can just hear me babble from the past about things in the future.

Now, how can I get into that IBM beta?

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