Future of computing has Schrödinger's cat inside

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2012-10-23

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Reuters Opinion under the title "A Nobel that points us toward our quantum future." It was republished with permission.

Scientists like to think that the true measure of our understanding is our ability to predict something, and, in experimental physics, control something. This year's Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to Serge Haroche and David Wineland for controlling the quantum world in ways that, not so long ago, were simply unthinkable. When I say, “controlling the quantum world,” I mean controlling not just the physical motion of a single atom, but also the internal state of the atom. It is the difference between being able to set off an avalanche, and control where every snowflake goes once the avalanche is in motion.

This level of precise control allows us to use the internal states of atoms, ions, and photons as information carriers, similar to bits in today’s computers. That means that certain calculations that have been impossible until now can become a lot easier. Soon, thanks to quantum computing, we’re going to be inventing things we never thought to invent before.

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