Walking Backwards in the Snow

Mark Mattingley-Scott Quantum Computing
Mark Mattingley-Scott Quantum Computing

…or How to program a quantum computer

Ubiquitous quantum computing raises all sorts of important questions along with a huge amount of uncertainty. Who better to explain this disruptive technology than Mark Mattingley-Scott, the new GM EMEA for the startup Quantum Brilliance – formerly the IBM Q Ambassador Leader EMEA & AP for IBM. After 30 years with Watson and supercomputers, he is now dealing with diamond quantum accelerators in a new quantum reality.

Here are a few of Mark’s thoughts on Quantum Computing

Uncertainty In the Universe

If you look at the history of quantum computation, one of the fundamental principles was discovered in 1961. The physicist Rolf Landua proved that a computational step – anything we do to compute – increases the entropy and the uncertainty in the universe by a really, really, really tiny amount. That led to further research on this, and in the 1970s another physicist named Charlie Bennett proved that if you take any function that you can compute on a computer, then you can rewrite it so it’s reversible. It sounds very esoteric.

Universe photo by NASA
Universe photo by NASA

Back To Where You’ve Come From

But what this means is if you’ve got a function that you want to compute, you can rewrite it so that it’s reversible. Pay attention: you go to steps but then you can go back in the reverse direction – back to where you’ve come from. Now the state of the universe is still the same, except for you have now got a result. And that lead to the theoretical foundations, the ideas, that there might be something we could do with quantum computations. And it was in the 1980s that the idea to actually make qubits (the quantum-mechanical analog of a classical bit) came into being.

It’s Counterintuitive

So, if you want to think about how to program a quantum computer: essentially all quantum computing programs are things that you can do, and that you can then reverse the direction of. That’s counterintuitive – that’s not how we do things in the real world. We walk from A to B. For example, think about footprints in the snow: you walk across the snow-covered field to the other side. Then you have the quantum computing equivalent: you walk across the snow-covered field to the other side and then you walk exactly backward in your footsteps. When you’re back to where you came from everything is the same – except you now know the solution to your problem. So in some ways, it is very counterintuitive.

The Grasp Of The Younger Generation

What we found when I was working at IBM and educating people was that the younger generations – the teenagers and pre-university ages – seemed to grasp how to program a quantum computer much more quickly. It does appear to be a generational thing. I saw this back in the 1990s with the internet and the world wide web. The new younger generation understood hypertext in an intuitive way that nobody else did. The younger generation now grasps principles, such as reversibility, much better.

We are caught in the middle of a revolution, but the ability to use and leverage that is something for the coming generations.

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