Quantum Puzzlement - Embedded.com

Quantum Puzzlement

Researchers at the Universityof Illinois  have created a quantum computer that returns ananswer when the machine isn't turned on.

After reading this I turned my PC off, but somehow all work ceased.Email no longer flooded in, and quantum vacuum fluctuations didn't makethis article pop into existence.

As I write the nation is frying in summer heat that's making recordstrains on the electrical grid. Think of the savings in power if wecould be productive with the computing machines turned off!

Even better, those pesky Windows bugs might all disappear. Thearticle makes the thoughtful point that a machine that's off exhibitsfewer bugs. Well, duh! But on further thought one realizes that only amachine that's on can crash. Remove the power and all of our programsbecome perfect.

Quantum computing has become a hot topic. Scientists are slingingqubits around in all sorts of ways that will apparently greatlysimplify both code-breaking and cryptography. If they can get thetechnology to work well, monster searches and massively-parallelproblems may no long consume much computer horsepower. Thepossibilities (see article on Money.cnn.com)are tremendously exciting.

And also baffling.

How can a computer work at all when it's turned off?

As I understand the promise, a small quantum register can store anenormous range of numbers, all simultaneously. So it takes very little”hardware” (whatever that looks like) to represent pretty much everypossible solution to a problem. But the details of presenting a problemto even a single qubit machine, and getting an answer, sure arepuzzling.

Even Richard Feynman, who laid out the physics of quantumelectrodynamics, said that anyone who claims to understand quantummechanics, doesn't.

Though that makes me feel a little less ignorant, I do wonder hownormal engineers and programmers, who don't have the letters “Phd”appended to their names, will be able to use these machines.

Perhaps physicists will develop an API that masks the inscrutabledetails of their quantum computers. In one sense we're already bufferedby a similar interface; none of us need to understand tunneling to usean EPROM, nor do we have to master Schrödinger's wave equation toshepherd electrons through a circuit. Our level of abstraction from thequantum mechanics of electronics is nearly complete, in that weassemble circuits using physically-large ICs which encapsulate allsorts of sub-atomic behavior.

Wikipedia has a pretty clear article on the quantum computing.Though I have no idea if practical computers will ever result from thisresearch, the possibilities are tremendously exciting.

What do you think? Going back to school to manipulate quarks andgluons?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .


Hardware technology should outpace the software that will run on the platform. However, recently, I have seen the gap narrow quite substantially. I believe one day, we will be able to develop, (I did not say write), systems that can modify their own behaviour, and to adapt to changes within the environment, given a set of rudimentary constraints and rules.

Maybe we can create the next Colossus Super Computer! ummmm…If we do, we had better be careful, especially if that computer can still function with the power plug pulled!

“This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied dead. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die.”

—> Colossus to Forbin in “Colossus, the Forbin Project”, 1970

– Ken Wada


Let's hope that quantum computing never becomes a reality. For if it does, all cryptographic algorithms will be totally comprimised and our banking will be totally insecure. In fact, nothing will be secure and cryptography as we know it… will end. Nobody will be able to hide anything… anymore.

– Steve King


“Let's hope that quantum computing never becomes a reality. For if it does, all cryptographic algorithms will be totally comprimised and our banking will be totally insecure. In fact, nothing will be secure and cryptography as we know it… will end. Nobody will be able to hide anything… anymore.”

Huh? I would expect it would more likely enable new kinds of cryptography that will be about as hard to break with quantum computers as today's methods are to break with 'normal' computers…

– Mark Lavelle

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