Thursday, February 17, 2005

Quantum Confussion

Alternative Title: It's all done with mirrors (seriously I am not making this up)

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? " - Albert Einstein

On Wednesday night in my Computer Architecture course the professor began discussing quantum physics and quantum computing. Yikes, my head started spinning part way through that lecture. It's a good thing that class is in the evening. Otherwise, I would have been completely useless the rest of the day. The weight of the material, I found was difficult to deal with on several levels.

The only thing quantum I have been able to understand is they theory behind the show Quantum Leap. You know the one about if you take the pieces of string (which represents you life), tie the ends together, and then role it into a ball. I understand that theory. So if someone can show me an equivalent for quantum physics it would be great. I sort of get the thing with the polarized lens, until someone tries to explain the mathematics behind it (and then I feel like I have plunged into a dark unknown place).

Time and distance (in Quantum world) are not continuous. Which brings up of course the question of "is life real? or is life one big simulation?" Maybe we are really in a computer simulation and just don't know it - like the Matrix movies. But then does it really matter that we are in a huge simulation? What difference would it make to me? I am happy, so I guess it does really matter - to me anyway or at least right now thats how I feel about it.

So, anyway, back to quantum physics. The subject that as you read more about it the harder and more confussing it gets. I was able to (very) loosely follow along until the part where you can have imaginary/complex probabilities. What?!? Yep, the probability that an event can happen could be i/2. Getting you mind wrapped around that concept is nearly - well I am sure it has some sort of imaginary probability associated with it.

So why study such a thing? Because those who can figure something out in this field will be famous. Seriously, quantum physics leads to quantum computing. Quantum computing will change the world as we know it. If you thought the Internet had an impact on society, just wait until quantum computing becomes more of a reality. Quantum computers are able to do thousands of calculations in miliseconds. Factoring prime numbers will be a problem of the past. Trying to find the salespersons's optimal route will no longer be that difficult. Shoot, predicting the weather will actually be accurate and timely. Human life will be altered in ways that we can't even begin to imagine.

Currently, 1/2 plated silver mirrors and IBM's quantum computers are all we really know about quantum computers. However, considering the subject matter - that is quiet a bit. There are quiet a few articles published on the subject matter - including some for the non-physists (like myself). However, don't feel bad if you don't understand it completely. Someone told me once: "No one really understands this stuff". Some people just have a better feel for the material than others.

What did I bring away from my lecture? Well, for starters "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" was one of my first thoughts. I also had the "please don't test us over this material on the exam" thought as well. It is difficult to sum into words what I think you would walk away with from this lecture. I know that quantum physics and quantum computing are real, it is a subject matter that no one truely understands completely - yet, and that some things in this world truely are random.

I leave you with an example (from one that our professor gave) for you to think about. Enjoy! Example:
You are in a say 8 X 10 room. In the air are molecules of oxygen and nitrogen. These molecules are fairly far apart. If you stay in the room for an undetermined period of time (but long enough), what is the probability that eventually all the atoms will gather tightly together in one corner of the room? (Of course, there would be an explosion and we would die in a vacuum...)

Just think about it. I will give you a hint - it's actually really simple. I know scary.

No comments: