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Editor’s Note: Last week’s Ideas Gone Wild post on The New Nude Olympics went viral in China.
Author Zhenming Zhai wrote us: Tell you something. Your publishing my idea about nude Olympics has caused a chain reaction in China, and for that in half a day more than a thousand comments have appeared only on Sina Sports alone, most of which are negative, often name-calling or redicles. But I love it! That started with Guangzhou Daily’s (paper media) interview with me about the content you published, and yesterday the interview was published. Currently, that interview is posted everywhere on the web.
This week, Zhenming is back, with a truly wild idea about climate control.
Climate Control by Means of Quantum Computation (or, The Flip Side of the Butterfly Effect)
by Zhenming Zhai
I am by no means a chaotician, neither am I a butterfly flapping my wings in Guangzhou that could cause thunderstorms in Miami, Florida. But what if I were a combination of both? What would happen if a super chaotician functioned as a butterfly that, as it were, flaps wings to counter the supposedly forthcoming thunderstorms? In other words, is there a flip side of butterfly effect that turns around and facilitates our climate control?
In fact, to use the metaphor of wing-flapping butterfly and storms in characterizing the theory of chaos could be misleading. It’s not the connection between the two that makes things chaotic. It’s rather the lack of certainty of if, when, and where such a potential connection will actualize itself that does the trick. I did not say “our lack of certainty” because we do not know whether the uncertainty is inherent in the nature of the system or is merely a consequence of our incomplete knowledge thereof, and such a second-order ignorance on our side contributes a lot to the legitimacy of our using the word “chaos” in this case. So we don’t know when a single butterfly’s single flapping act will turn everything upside-down at the one extreme, and when even all butterflies, dragonflies, and anything that flies fly together will lead to virtually no observable consequence of the sort at the other extreme, and neither anything and everything in between. It is such a state of uncertainty that makes chaotic systems outrageously chaotic.
Given such a horrific description of the so-called “butterfly effect,” what’s the point, then, of talking about its “flip side” as stated earlier? How is it possible that a chaotician in action can carry out a counter-act by exerting a small amount of disturbance on the system at the right moment in a right manner and then a would-be large-scale climate disaster is prevented?
We may recall that the butterfly-like graph was generated by means of computer simulation, and hence the meme “butterfly effect” and so on. But I would not dare to mention the possibility that computer be used as an engine that actualizes the flip side of the effect as said, until I learned that the first commercialized quantum computer with a 128-qubit processor, D-Wave One, was actually built in Canada lately.
What’s so special about a quantum computer? Isn’t it just a potentially faster desktop device? I am by no means, again, an expert in quantum computation, but I do have heard about a new metaphysical claim that the ultimate nature of the world is nothing but computation. Such a claim wouldn’t sound right unless we understand how quantum mechanics has advanced to provide a framework of a brand new theory, that is, the theory of quantum computation. This theory has in turn made possible the birth of quantum computers such as D-Wave one as we see it now. If we further consider implications of concepts such as superposition of Eigen states, wave function collapse, EPR effect, etc. for all possibilities of quantum computation, we may not dare to reject out of hand the idea that we might someday be able to re-program the process of a so-called “system of chaos” and stop a would-be thunderstorm, or whatever undesirable consequences due to a dramatic climate change.
But how can we make that happen? Nobody knows that yet, but the simplest scenario I can now present to you is as follows. Let us relate a bunch of quantum computers by means of deploying entangled subatomic particles, and install them on geographically separate locations as fit, and also connect them to robotic “butterflies,” so to speak, that disturb the climate system according to the result of the coordinated operations of those quantum computers. But from where these computers receive their input? In my opinion, they should get their input from the climate system itself on the fly, but what do you think?
Interestingly, the chaotic state of the climate system results from the uncertainty of nonlinear interactions among its elements on the one hand, whereas the certainty of the result of quantum computation comes from the ultimate uncertainty of quantum mechanics on the other hand. Now let the two kinds of uncertainty interact with each other without human intervention. Would that produce a state of absolute certainty? It’s fascinating to speculate on that, but after all, one thing is certain: if we humans want to control climate, we must find a way to allow our intention to affect the process that warrants a sufficient degree of certainty about outcomes as expected. Otherwise, it would make no sense to speak of climate control.