Qubits work messily


I am standing looking at the quantum computer, trying and failing to muster an appropriate sense of reverence. It is a lovely contraption: a stack of copper tiers lined with delicate electrodes and elaborate networks of plastic tubing. It is an impressive contraption: an example, I have been told, of some of the most advanced technology in the field. My lab guide proudly points out each of the computer’s components in turn – the refrigeration system humming with liquid nitrogen, a fastidiously positioned series of lasers, one tiny sapphire processing chip – and watches carefully for my reaction. I am trying and failing to be enthusiastic. I can only smile politely, swallow the nagging swells of a yawn, and do my best not to look bored. Someday quantum computers will, their cheerleaders swear, sift through unprecedented volumes of information and solve processing problems once thought intractable. The military hopes to use them for extra-secure encryption, biologists hope to use them to unpack the mysteries of proteins, investment banks hope to use them to analyze minute market fluctuations, and everyone hopes to use them to store giant caches of data. But quantum computing is still a young field, and quantum computers can’t do any of it yet. At present, the one in front of me can factor the number fifteen.

more from Miranda Trimmier at The New Inquiry here.