Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Why the NSA Wants a Quantum Computer, with Brad Templeton
After previously discussing surveillance and autonomous cars, Singularity University's Brad Templeton returns to Big Think to examine some lighter fare: quantum mechanics and computing.
Templeton, a software architect and futurist, tells of a hypothetical machine that could bring down the internet (and much of society with it). Such a machine would harness the principles of quantum mechanics and boast problem-solving capabilities both amazing and scary:
"It seems possible in theory to do very, very huge amounts of computing in quantum mechanics, sort of as some people would imagine it as though you were tapping into millions and trillions and billions of parallel universes and having computations take place in all those parallel universes until an answer is found in one and is revealed to you in your universe."
While a computer with those capabilities would in most cases be a triumph, it could also spell disaster if placed in the wrong hands. For example, much of the cryptography employed to keep our computer network secure relies on math problems that are tremendously difficult to solve. Utilizing quantum mechanics, a theoretical quantum computer would almost certainly be able to crack the code:
"And if that lock can be broken, because the quantum computer makes easy what everyone else believe to be incredibly hard, the person with the quantum computer could break most of the cryptography, all the traffic you see going across the web, a lot of the financial transaction traffic, a lot of the authentication, all of that stuff becomes vulnerable to a computer that's done that."
Thanks to Edward Snowden, it's been revealed that the NSA is currently researching how to create its own quantum computer. Templeton takes solace in that information because it means that they don't already have one. And, he points out, they may never have one. After all, the machine is only the stuff of theory at this point. If someone were able to build one, Templeton says we'd know of its existence thanks to the legions of panicking Wall Street executives.
Templeton concludes with a discussion of D-Wave, a Canadian company that has created a machine sometimes referred to as a quantum computer. The D-Wave device solves many of the difficult problems a theoretical quantum computer would, but without the ability to crack highly-complicated cryptography. Instead, it focuses on optimization:
"...having a really complex system and trying to find the most efficient, the lowest energy, the lowest cost way to deal with it. And so that type of quantum computer could help us a lot at solving big business problems, big data problems"
While neither the D-Wave or the hypothetical NSA quantum computer will ever make an appearance at your work desk, their capabilities could have a lasting effect on how the world does business. We'll just have to wait and see.
For more on the quantum computing, watch this clip from Templeton's Big Think Interview:
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.