Everyone always talks about traveling through time, but if you ask me, the ultimate temporal vacation would just be to stop the clock a bit. Who of us could not take a break of five or six months after 2020 before committing to a whole new calendar year? It’s Not You 2021; it’s us.
Unfortunately, this is not an episode of Rick and Morty, so we can not stop time until we are ready to move on.
But maybe our computers can.
A few studies on quantum algorithms from independent research teams recently graced the arXiv preprint servers. They are both pretty much about the same thing: using clever algorithms to solve nonlinear differential equations.
And if you look at them through the lens on speculative science you can conclude, as I have, that they are a recipe for computers that basically can stop time to solve a problem that requires an almost immediate solution.
Linear equations are bread-and-butter from classical computing. We crush numbers and use basic binary calculation to determine what happens next in a linear pattern or sequence using classical algorithms. But nonlinear differential equations are harder. They are often too harsh or completely impractical for even the most powerful classic computer to solve.
[Read next: How Netflix shapes mainstream culture, explained by data]
The hope is that quantum computers will one day break the difficulty limit and make these difficult-to-solve problems seem like ordinary computational tasks.
When computers solve these kinds of problems, they are basically predicting the future. Today̵
But when you reach the point where the interaction scale creates a feedback loop, like when you observe particle interactions or, for example, if you throw a deep handful of glitter into the air, a classic computer has pretty much no ooomphen to deal with physics in it scale.
This, as quantum scientist Andrew Childs told Quanta Magazine, is why we can not predict the weather. There are just too many particle interactions that a regular old computer can follow.
But quantum computers do not comply with the binary rules of classical data processing. Not only can they zigzag and zigzag, they can also zigzag while zagging or neither doing at the same time. For our purposes, this means that they can potentially solve difficult problems such as “where will every single glitter stick be within .02 seconds?” or “what is the best route for this traveler seller to take?”
To understand how we get from here and there (and what that means) we need to look at the aforementioned papers. The first comes from the University of Maryland. You can check it out here, but the part we’re focusing on now is this:
In this article, we have presented a quantum Carleman linearization (QCL) algorithm for a class of quadratic nonlinear differential equations. Compared to the previous approach to our algorithm improves complexity from an exponential dependence on T to an almost quadratic dependence, under the condition R <1.
And let’s look at the other paper. This is from a team at MIT:
This paper showed that quantum computers can, in principle, gain an exponential advantage over classical computers for solving non-linear differential equations. The main potential advantage of the quantum non-linear equation algorithm over classical algorithms is that it scales logarithmically in the solution space dimension, making it a natural candidate for application to high-dimensional problems such as the Navier-Stokes equation and other non-linear fluids. , plasmas, etc ..
Both papers are fascinating (you should read them later!), But I risk gross simplification by saying: they describe how we can build algorithms for quantum computers to solve the really tough problems.
So what does that mean? We hear about how quantum computers can solve drug discovery or giant math problems, but where does the rubber actually hit the road? What I’m saying is that classic computing gave us iPhones, jetfighters and video games. What should it do?
It will potentially give quantum computers the ability to essentially stop time. Now, as you can imagine, that does not mean that any of us will get a remote control with a pause button that we can use to pause from an argument like the Adam Sandler movie “Click.”
What this means is that a powerful enough quantum computer running the great-great-great-great-grandchildren of the algorithms developed today may one day be able to functionally assess particle level physics with sufficient velocity and accuracy to make the passage of time a non-factor in its performance;.
So theoretically, if someone in the future threw a handful of glitter at you and you had a swarm of quantum-powered defense drones, they could respond immediately by positioning themselves perfectly between you and the particles coming from the glitter explosion to protect you. Or for a less interesting utility case, you can model and predict Earth’s weather patterns with near-perfect accuracy over extremely long periods of time.
This ultimately means that quantum computers could one day function for a functional period of time, solving problems in the almost exact infinite moment they happen.
H / t: Max G Levy, Quanta Magazine
Published January 13, 2021 – 19:46 UTC