POTUSes and other residents of the Imperial City do not on a very regular basis visit this blog.
I was, therefore, very much surprised to find a rare bird from that place dropping by at this blog on “Wed Aug 29, 2018”, at “03:21:26” HRS IST, i.e., early in the morning of 29th August.
In any case, “the early to rise…” couldn’t possibly be a motivation here; Washinton, D.C., and India are separated by some 9 and a half hours of time difference [^]. … Ditto, perhaps, as far as that thing about the early bird catching the worm, goes.
So, what possibly could be the reason?
I don’t know. Any guesses?
I gathered from Roger Schlafly’s blog [^] who in turn gathered it from Prof. Peter Woit’s blog [^] that
Moving through the US Congress is a National Quantum Initiative Act, which would provide over a billion dollars in funding for things related to quantum computation.
Alright. At this point, I strongly recommend that you go back to Schlafly’s post, finish reading it, and only then continue with the rest of this post.
Personally, I am not at all against the proposed act i.e. the Act.
It all is American money, first thing. And, the rest of the world sure knows for a fact that America has huge amounts of money. They could easily fund even just serendipity [^]!
So, from this point of view and motivation, $ 1 billion actually looks like a paltry amount. I mean, given the fact that it all is American money anyway.
Anyway, coming back to my concerns (and those of this post), I then pursued the links to the QC skeptics that Schlafly helpfully provides in his post.
The Quanta Magazine article [^] covering Prof. Kalai’s work was something I had already browsed some time ago, when it had first come. This time around though, I showed the good sense to actually pursue the links given in it, especially the links given in this passage:
“… a loose group of mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists [have been] arguing that quantum computing, for all its theoretical promise, is something of a mirage.”
Hmmm… Mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists….
I am not sure if the “physicist” (Wolfram) is indeed arguing against QCs in the linked passage [^].
The “computer scientist” (Prof. Oded Goldreich) has some remarkable insights into the nature of the very theory of QM itself [^]. However, his note is very brief. It also seems to be a bit dated. Looks like it is an informally written and early thought on this matter.
But it was the “mathematician” (Prof. Leonid Levin) who, I found, was truly distinctive [^]—despite his being a “mathematician.”
OK, the way it happened was this. It was only when I landed at Levin’s page that I came to know that this write up was coming from him. Now, his name did give me something like a vague ring—a vague feel that this guy was, may be, a neat / original guy or something like that. But I couldn’t place him immediately. So I did the right thing. I just ignored who he was, and focused on what he had to say by way of regarding the QC as a “mirage.”
There was little trouble getting hooked on to Levin’s write-up. The writing, I realized, was very tight and wonderful. Just how wonderful? I would consider it a great achievement if I ever manage to write something that is written even
half one-tenth as well as how Levin writes here. … Want to see a sample? I (anyway) can’t resist the temptation to copy-paste this particular passage:
2.2. Quantum Computers
QC has interacting elements, called q-bits. A pure state of each is a unit vector on the complex plane . Its two components are quantum amplitudes of its two Boolean values. A state of the entire machine is a vector in the tensor product of planes. Its coordinate vectors are tensor-products of q-bit basis states, one for each n-bit combination. The machine is cooled, isolated from the environment nearly perfectly, and initialized in one of its basis states representing the input and empty memory bits. The computation is arranged as a sequence of perfectly reversible interactions of the q-bits, putting their combination in the superposition of a rapidly increasing number of basis states, each having an exponentially small amplitude. The environment may intervene with errors; the computation is done in an error-correcting way, immune to such errors as long as they are few and of special restricted forms. Otherwise, the equations of Quantum Mechanics are obeyed with unlimited precision. This is crucial since the amplitudes are exponentially small and deviations in remote (hundredth or even much further) decimal places would overwhelm the content completely. Peter Shor shows such computers capable of factoring in polynomial time. The exponentially many coordinates of their states can, using a rough analogy, explore one potential solution each and concentrate the amplitudes in the one that works.
… Damn it! Not a single word out of place, and, not a single relevant consideration missed!
… If this piece is typical of Levin’s writing, then I must say that the rest of us (outside of his specialty) have been missing something remarkable.
Go, continue with the fun. Even the title of Levin’s next sub-section—“Small Difficulties”—is delightful.
Oh, BTW, Leonid Levin is one of the two people who independently discovered the existence of the P-vs-NP issue [^]. …
It all still does not mean that I am against the act i.e. the Act.
I do in all sincerity believe that they are far more likely to fail achieving even “just” the quantum supremacy, than succeeding in it. But realize that quantum supremacy is just the potatoes here. The meat is: breaking the RSA codes. No one is talking about that part. (Meaning, I feel sure that the meat is even far less likely to be achieved, ever.)
At the same time, I also equally sincerely believe that, all things considered, the amount ($ 1 billion) is not at all something on which Americans would (or even should!) get worked up a lot.
OK. Some may experience dismay over the fact that more Democrats than Repulicans are going to get employed as a result of that funding.
However, none could challenge the fact that most people who stand to derive benefits here would be your typical scientists and engineers: middle-class, law-abiding, hard-working citizens who place high value on education and culture, why, sometimes even on reason!
Even the worst critics of the bill would agree that these people wouldn’t make for all that bad a company for a dinner. As guests, they may not make for the most interesting lot, but they also wouldn’t spoil the mood of your party with some off-color remarks. Also, it is a fact that while in office or lab, they would work sincerely on their goal—even if the goal is that of building a QC that works!
So, given all that, the money they are asking for isn’t a complete waste—you couldn’t call it “pork,” so to speak.
And then, you can never tell what accidental and unintended discovery might come out of it all. [^]
Yes, American science is weird—not to mention the American post-graduate (called “graduate”) education, and also the American engineering (especially the kind that is practiced on either coast, but especially so in California). Trends in American education, science and engineering are all dominated by all kinds of fads, entrenched viewpoints, prejudices and whatnot—except for reason. (I should know!) The QC is, from this viewpoint, just another fad.
Yet, it also remains true that sometimes, after thoroughly checking equipment, removing pigeon-nests from it, and even cleaning out the accumulated droppings, the signal still remains there—it refuses to go away [^].
Yes, 55 years is a long time to have passed since then, but still, somehow, it does seem to me, speaking in overall terms, that $ 1 billion in new allocations would not necessarily be a bad thing, so to say—you couldn’t possibly call it “pork.”
Another thing. The way I really see it is this way: The more they try to build a really powerful QC and fail—as they are bound to—the better become my chances of collecting a Nobel or two. Whaddaya think?
A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “hawaa ke jhonke aaj…” (“sawaar loon”)
Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya
Music: Amit Trivedi
Singer: Monali Thakur