The Future of Quantum Computing

Question: Will quantum computing make self-aware AI more likely? (Submitted by Antonio Amorelli)

Michio Kaku:  Antonio, quantum computers is the wildcard.  It could be a game changer.  It could change the entire landscape of artificial intelligence.  Let me explain.  At the present time, our most advanced robots, some of which are built in Japan and also at MIT have the collective intelligence and wisdom of a cockroach; a mentally challenged cockroach; a lobotomized, mentally challenged cockroach.  These cockroaches take about six hours to walk across the room.  They enter a room.  They see lines, circles, squares, triangles, but they don’t know the fact that they’re looking at chairs, desks, tables, people, lamps.  They see better than us.  They don’t know what they are seeing.  Also they hear better than us, but they don’t understand what they are hearing. So we need a new architecture and then, in 10 years, silicon power may run its course and the silicon revolution may actually collapse.  We’re used to the fact that computers double in power every 18 months.  That can’t go on forever.  Moore’s Law, which is the foundation of modern society, may eventually collapse in 10, 15 years, so we physicists are looking for a replacement. A replacement, molecular computers, atomic computers, optical computers and quantum computers.

Quantum computers compute on atoms, not silicon.  They are as small as you can get in terms of information storage—you can’t get smaller than an individual electron—and they work by looking at the spin, at the orientation of electrons.  If I put an electron in a magnetic field, it can spin up or it can spin down.  That would be a one and that would be a zero. But in quantum mechanics it could also be in between zero and one, so a bit one, a bit zero could become a Q bit, anything between zero and one.  Now, to be fair, the world’s record for a quantum computer calculation is: three times five is fifteen.  Now you probably already knew that: three times five is fifteen. But remember that calculation was done on five atoms, so here is a homework assignment for you.  Take five atoms and make a computation three times five is fifteen and then you begin to realize how difficult it is to make quantum computers.  The problem is interference.  Cosmic rays, a rumbling truck outside your door, small tremors in the earth, they create vibrations sufficient to destroy the spin of the electron. And that is the problem.  That is the reason why we don’t have quantum computers. And remember if you can solve this problem, if you can create a quantum computer that computes on individual atoms and electrons you would be heralded as the next Thomas Edison.

Recorded September 29, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

Today's robots are less intelligent than cockroaches, but advances in quantum computing—transferring information using atoms rather than silicon—could revolutionize the field of AI.

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First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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