Possibly not quite understanding the science here

The Telegraph might want to try talking to one of the occasional readers here:

Since the late 1970s, scientists have understood that by harnessing the weird-but-true properties of subatomic particles, like electrons, as described by quantum theory, a new breed of computers could be made far more powerful than traditional machines which rely on silicon chips.

Silicon is using electrons already. Possibly pendantry on my part but still.

25 thoughts on “Possibly not quite understanding the science here”

  1. Not quite**

    But yeah, difficult to run a washing machine or indeed anything electrical without the properties of electrons.

  2. Pendantry would actually say the quote’s accurate. It is the quantum behaviour of the electron the silicon semiconductor’s based on. Just don’t ask me to explain what that means. Or even what quantum is.
    The bit that isn’t accurate is the time. I know I was buying silicon logic devices well before the mid 70’s.

  3. Quite. Let’s put quantum computing in the same bucket as nuclear fusion and self-driving cars for a thing which is “going to change the world any time now” (in 30-300 years).

  4. It’s as I feared. We the taxpayer are going to give a US startup £10M so it can fritter it away on a boondoggle in Abingdon. With the usual over-the-top stupidities from the ‘responsible’ minister – “Our ambition is to be the world’s first quantum-ready economy”. Sheesh!

    IBM have chucked uncounted $millions at this and they’re still at the ‘few logic gates’ stage. IMHO there are far better ways to spend £10M of our money at this point in time.

  5. Well, if they succeed in making quantum computing widespread, they will also succeed in killing modern telecommunications stone dead.
    That internet thingy you have over there, mate. It’s dead..
    Everything from websites to online banking requires strong cryptography. Want your WiFi secure?
    Not if people have quantum computers.

  6. “It is the quantum behaviour of the electron the silicon semiconductor’s based on.” As is its predecessor the valve.

  7. Steve,

    ““Our ambition is to be the world’s first quantum-ready economy”


    If it’s The Next Big Thing, there’s some big advantages of being the centre of it. You’re more likely to get all those nice network effects. e.g. all the tech companies around Palo Alto, Formula 1 teams around Northamptonshire.

    The problem is that government/media etc has no clue about the next big thing. There weren’t any Mr Cholmondley-Warners at the Ministry of Works in the early 1960s suggesting shovelling money into Formula 1.

    Remember all the things we were told over the decades were the Next Big Thing? All those magazines and books about how we’d all be in space, or flying by Concorde? In the early 1990s it was VR, today it’s self-driving cars.

  8. I think one thing is moderately a good bet – the tech and the expertise for the next big thing will come out of universities, and not all universities and not all departments of those specific universities. And it has to come OUT of the the universities and into a private company. So gvt you have limited resources. If you’re in the NBT roulette, just take any chips you have off some of the things you know won’t be the next big thing and put them onto Russell group stem. And then look into your own wheelhouse, i.e. statute law and see what hinders start ups and investors making a return, so you can tweak that without splashing chips.

  9. Skunkworks, Menlo Park, Bell labs, etc… But yes, Hallo, I take your point.
    However, if everyone is going to WFH in future geography won’t matter, the firm location is no more than a brass plate.

  10. BoM4 – oh yeah. I was reading about ITER, the international fusion research project. Bigly impressive stuff, but as a layman, the more I read about the mindboggling cost and engineering challenge of getting a fusion reactor to boil a kettle, the more I wondered if it wasn’t a brilliant waste of resources.

    Because fission plants are probably more than good enough, at a fraction of the cost, and don’t require 10,000 tons of superconducting magnets and thousands of the world’s smartest scientists and engineers to work.

    Is quantum computing a blind alley? No idea. £10m doesn’t sound like a lot for a punt, but it’s more likely to be the next Transputer than the next Colossus.

  11. @Steve

    Fusion has been 30 years away for about 40 years. Fusion has lots of positives – it doesn’t produce radioactive waste, the fuel is widely available. If we can get it to work, it promises abundant cheap power.

    The problem is that we cannot get it to work. At present more energy in than out. Fission is actually pretty expensive (we’d be better off with natural gas). The upside of fission is that it works. Well most of the time.

    Quantum computing has all kinds of potential applications. Should the government be trying to pick winners? No, they should do more to create a sustainable ecosystem of tech entrepreneurship in the UK, not just putting money into basic research, but making sure intellectual property can be turned into a business. Encouraging silicon fen perhaps.

  12. BIBrum: TBF there is work going on on crypto algorithms which would be resistant to quantum algorithms, though I don’t think we’ll need them for quite a while, if ever. The techniques used may also be vulnerable to non-quantum attacks, so that has to be worked through.

    Steve: £10M won’t deliver a “quantum-ready economy”, so it would need a lot more later. Hopefully the govt will see through it before the project asks for the next £100M.

  13. Ken – Fusion has lots of positives – it doesn’t produce radioactive waste, the fuel is widely available

    Definitely, I’m just not sure these are the right problems to solve. Radioactive waste seems to be more of a meme than a massive problem (also it’s a much easier problem to solve than nuclear fusion), and there’s no shortage of uranium.

    Feels like they’re trying to engineer a flying car to overcome potholes at a roundabout in Slough – the solution is a lot more complicated and expensive than the problem deserves.

    Fission is actually pretty expensive

    Yarp, but it’s all relative. We’ve spaffed untold billions on inferior renewables, and now the oil industry is keen to get out of the value-creation business and into the carbon capture subsidy sucking business.

    ITER costs about $50Bn (there’s a predictable fight over the budget estimate) and it’s hard to see how their approach could ever lead to commercially viable fuel – superconducting magnets, plasma chambers, and all the expensive gubbins around them don’t sound particularly reliable or cheap.

    All sounds a bit TSR-2, a technically brilliant project that we probably can’t afford to put into production (and the unsexy but functional Blackburn Buccaneer is probably good enough anyway).

    On the quantum computing front, I’m even more out of my technical depth than musing about leccy, but I can’t help but wonder if the real value isn’t going to be in whoever figures out how to get Doom running on it. The hardware itself is probably going to be a commodity play, if the history of the computer industry is any guide. The Ministry Man’s £10m investment could end up as free R&D for Huawei.

  14. Have they managed to do any quantum computing at anything significantly above close to absolute zero?

    No? Ok.. Still useless for any practical purpose then…

    No need to understand “quantum”.. All you need to understand is the main technical challenge, which simply won’t be solved anytime soon. Because…well.. Quantum…

  15. difficult to describe a quantum computer, as they tend to exist only within the black hole that is your typical egghead’s noggin. But I took it to mean making use of the properties of those particles that almost exist when you smash electrons together at very high energies, along with a very cold fridge. Perhaps not too far removed from the infinite probability drive.

  16. Because quantum computing lends itself well to cracking crypto, every government security apparatus will be wanting to get its foot in the door.
    I suppose chucking a bit of official cash at it with possible commercial benefits somewhere down the line isn’t too bad. Bit like putting a bit of cash in Bitcoin back in the day just in case it took off..
    Going on about Iter etc. Our little engineering firm was in contact with one of the boffins down there to supply some little bits and pieces for them,so I took a good look at the the website out of interest.
    It’s a cracking website and very informative if you like that sort of thing, but to echo Steve; anything that requires 10,000 tonnes of superconductors is never going to be cost effective or reliable. And that’s if it works at all. Which it doesn’t.

  17. Quantum computers aren’t (and aren’t going to be, even if practical examples ever emerge) gazillions of times faster than conventional ones. They can carry out certain functions (number factorisation is probably the best known*, and the one which trips up many types of current cryptography) very much more quickly – and no doubt the range of such functions will increase as people come up with more clever algorithms. But for general purpose computing they offer little in the way of performance advantage.

    * calculating real-world ‘quantum’ stuff, such as how proteins fold, is another important area

  18. Doug and Dinsdale Piranha have been doing such a tremendous job as government chief scientific and medical advisers that they could surely turn their considerable talents to “picking winners”.

    Admittedly their budget would have to double every seven days…

  19. Before you can have a “Quantum Economy”–WTF that is –you need an economy. And ours is heading down the shitter.

    I once sat through a quite boring lecture from some twat from Harwell about “progress” in Fusion. He was v proud that they had had fusion going for one thousandth of a second. Somebody said that wasn’t long but he smugly replied it was 1/1000th of a second longer than nowt. Commercial fusion would be with us in 50 more years.

    I did not make a friend by reminding him that in 1950 researchers –prob his Grandad-used that exact same line–60 years before. I asked if fusion–like cancer “research” was not a gravy-train for science hacks.

    He didn’t agree.

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