Two theoretical physicists are on death row and have been in the same cell for ten years. One night, the warden comes and says, ‘You’re going to be executed tomorrow. Any last wishes?’ The first theoretical physicist says, ‘Well, I’ve been in this cell working on a new theory for the last ten years, and I would like to present it to all of the populace of the prison, so my final last good idea doesn’t die with me.’ And the warden says, ‘Sure, we’ll set up a PowerPoint for you, you can make some slides, and present your results.’ He turns to the second theoretical physicist and says, ‘What is your last dying wish?’ The second theoretical physicist says, ‘I would like to be taken out and shot before the other guy’s talk!
Every now and then, I look back and assess the twists and turns of the path I’ve taken. It feels like all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are spread everywhere. On the one hand, studying the subject at hand from every angle is a learning process that allows the emergence of ideas. On the other, the wider the scope of the investigation is, the more difficult it becomes to stretch those ‘mental’ arms reaching for pieces and reassemble them together. Along the way, I hold on to an invisible thread of words and concepts. As a visual learner, I see in pictographs a succession of shapes integrated long ago in human communication and upon which the Universe is based.
Somehow the unhelpful pronoun ‘something’ has come up again and again. That something from which ‘being’ arises describes a formless existence of an accidental nature, an undetermined and vacuous state of uncertainty. The telling image of a battle over a domain represents time asserting its sovereignty over space and alludes to a hidden process of appropriation of what is merely potential. What does it feel like when time asserts its sovereignty? Although physicists dismiss accidental similarities on the ground that elements of the physical reality cannot be determined by a priori philosophical considerations, but must be found by an appeal to results of experiments and measurements, I somehow relate ‘something’ to the quantum state of the Universe.
…it is only in a highly technical sense that the particle “is there” while there is allegedly “nothing there” where it produces its effect.
The purpose of modern physics ultimately isn’t to explain everything. Its objective is more practical: to replicate the physical world and harness the quantum-mechanical properties of physical systems. Quantum fluctuations at the deepest level of movement lead to ‘being’. From bits to qubits, computers open a passage between abstraction and reality, but as we move from light waves to photons, phonons and ions, are we closer to answer those deep philosophical questions? The Universe as the setting of an infinite number of superposed states emerging in a seemingly random manner holds such a depth of meaning to which we may not have access, but we surely can reproduce the processes that we observe, measure, and experiment.
A quantum-based computing system may provide for securely encrypted communication, much faster data transfer, and ‘leaner’ physical storage capabilities. CERN whose computer requirements are rapidly growing is using IBM Quantum’s cloud-enabled quantum computing to analyze 1 petabyte of data per second in the Large Hadron Collider, something that would require 1 million classical CPU cores to do. Quantum entanglement is key to transmit information over long distances, prior to the establishment of a large-scale quantum internet network. To limit interference, turbulence, and background noise, satellite quantum communications benefit from orbiting in the emptiness of space to generate symmetric keys and simultaneously transmit them to establish a direct link between remote users separated by long distances. Bypassing the need for quantum repeaters, two strings of entangled photon pairs were distributed from the satellite Mozi 墨子 — one of the five scientific experimental satellites established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences — to two ground observatories more than 1,120 kilometers apart. Intercontinental secure key exchanges and the launch of satellites at higher orbit are in preparation. The quantum space race is on with the National Space Quantum Laboratory program, a partnership between NASA and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.
Early initiatives show pathways and create a sense of urgency for new priorities in the hope to move humanity forward. Not to mention strategic implications in the intelligence, security and defence sectors, those initial successes have fueled a technological race in the field of quantum optics and quantum information. After the Honeywell quantum computer with a quantum volume of 64 was reported just a year ago to be the world’s highest performing quantum computer, a team of Chinese scientists announced in December that they too successfully developed the most powerful quantum computer in the world Jiuzhang 九章, performing in 200 seconds a calculation that on an ordinary supercomputer would take 2.5 billion years to complete.
The number 64 comes from 2 raised to the power of 6. A big reason quantum computers can do more is the q-bits can have two values at the same time. Six bits can have, essentially, 64 states at once.
The transition period from classical to quantum computing has an indefinite timeline. The goal isn't the replacement of the internet as we know it but a hybrid solution. Researchers at Duke are currently developing what they hope to be the first practical, scalable quantum computer based on ion-trapping technology. But for most of us, the Cloud provides the only feasible way to tap into a quantum computer. Despite the sensitivity of the first generation of quantum computers to interference, noise, and environmental effects, a coordinated approach to tame and manipulate those irregular, complex, and dynamic flows of particles — carriers of quantum information — is underway. Industries, banking institutions, policymakers, academic institutes, and space agencies support their own research, taking advantage of the new technological possibilities to perform, to name a few, financial predictions and chemical simulations, develop quantum sensing technology as part of multi-messenger astronomy, and engineer ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air as green-house gas emissions reach historic levels.
Aspiring towards clarity is also inexorably iterative. Whenever you set out to clarify your thinking, you’re not aiming to articulate an ultimate truth. Rather, you’re aiming at a process, the result of which will always be an act of communication, complete with all the imperfections and contingencies this implies.
The concept of quantum ontology defines in modern times what was merely known 2,000 years ago as ‘something’ deemed to self-organize and localize itself in relation to time and space. I hope future quantum-based computing systems will contribute to lay out a more faithful representation of the Universe. The most profound implication of what is happening today is the convergence of bits, neurons and qubits. A research team reportedly demonstrated that algorithms based on deep neural networks can be applied to better understand the world of quantum physics. Have algorithms become an ordinary mode of communication? David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen's paper on Consciousness and the collapse of the wave function is out. It may be that a shared resonance from micro-conscious to macro-conscious entities can only happen intermittently during the collapse of particles’ wave functions, which signals the transfer of information and/or consciousness.