Twenty years ago, I remember sitting around a table with a group of academics, we were discussing Moore’s Law. This law was quite accurate at the time, it stated that microchip density and thus performance, would double every eighteen months.
We knew though, twenty years ago, that Moore’s Law would eventually have its day, we would reach the limits of silicon technology. Today computer chips just don’t increase in performance like they used to, continually extra performance is being wrung out of this technology but it’s not developing at anything like the rate that it was.
I’d always been very interested in Kondratieff’s Long Wave Theory of economics. It made sense to me that the Industrial Age accelerated the world into a new era, before maturing and finally fading to give way to the Information Age, which in turn would fade to give way to something else. But I wondered, what is that something else?
One day, around twenty years ago, I read for the first time, about the theory of Quantum Computers: very weird stuff indeed. I don’t have time here to go into an in-depth explanation (not that I particularly understand it myself), but when I read about Entangled Photons and Quantum Superposition, I knew that I had seen the future.
The world was moving beyond Einsteinian physics, not to say that Einstein was wrong, just that he didn’t have the whole story. Quantum Theory seems to suggest that the human perception of the Universe, Time and and Space is very limited, it’s very hard to understand for us mere mortals.
I discussed the Quantum Computing theory with leading academics, in the field of computing and Information Technology, but they dismissed it at the time as being a bit too wild. I wasn’t convinced and kept an occasional eye on progress over the next couple of decades, you can see a rough time-line of development here. Early this year D-Wave announced that they had a working Quantum Computer on the market, IBM have their own version, although using different technology.
The point is that Quantum Computing is no longer a wild theory. It’s still in its early primitive stages, but it is here. Silicon computing as we know it today looks to be impressive, but in reality, these machines carry out simple Boolean logical operations but relatively quickly, giving the impression that they are clever. These machines shuffle a procession of noughts and ones around a circuit board, to improve performance, we can increase the clock speed to count them off more quickly or develop the internal architecture to improve parallel data addressing per clock cycle. Steam engines! Quantum computers will have none of these constraints.
Because of the nature of Quantum Bits or Qubits, they can hold a lot more information than a classical bit. In addition, it is envisaged that other aspects of Quantum physics will allow almost instantaneous data transfer and almost infinite ability to address data. According to an article here, Google’s Quantum computer is one hundred million times faster than the fastest laptop and this may not even be a true Quantum Computer, just a taste of things to come. D-Wave’s latest Quantum Computer is said to be around three thousand six hundred times faster than a current Supercomputer and this Quantum technology is still in its infancy and very limited. There’s an interesting video about these machines here.
There is much argument in the academic world as to how fast and powerful Quantum Computers have the potential to be. They’re difficult to benchmark, but I’ll stick my neck out and say: potentially many trillions of times faster and more powerful.
Primitive Quantum Computers are already being used to research complex scientific and engineering problems, one area of particular significance is Artificial Intelligence. Silicon based AI is one thing, but quite another when driven by Quantum Computing. Here, Geordie Rose, the founder of D-Wave, talks about Quantum Driven AI.
Geordie believes that we’re only around eleven or twelve year away from developing machines that are smarter and more intelligent than we are. I would say, give or take a few years, this is realistic. When this happens, Quantum machines will have the ability to self-develop. Eventually we will lose control of them, possibly sooner than you think.
We don’t understand Quantum Physics yet we’re utilising technology that we have no idea as to where it will lead. Research at CERN with the Large Hadron Collider is making some impressive discoveries, particularly since the discovery of the Higgs Boson, but we’re still a long way from understanding the real fabric of the Universe, Time and Space.
In the meantime, perhaps we need to answer questions that are close to home, such as: who will have control of this technology? Certainly The Powers That Be, whether government or who else you perceive them to be, will possibly have the power to maintain unprecedented control of our lives.
As we move into a Kondratieff winter (explained here, although I think the time-line is a bit off) we will probably find that the world that emerges in the spring is very different to the one that we’re used to.
It is ironic to think though that those who would rule over our lives will eventually lose control of the technology that they would use to control us. Initially, we’ll be beguiled by fantastic technological advances, perhaps Virtual Reality that will blow our minds. This will hide the advancement of an invincible Totalitarian regime, but they too will lose control. In this video Professor Stephen Hawking describes how Artificial Intelligence could spell the end of the Human Race.
When Professor Hawking issues warnings like this, perhaps we should listen. The time to ask questions is fast running out. Certainly, when we discuss Artificial Intelligence, mostly, we don’t discuss the Quantum factor. We’re about to go through a very big step change in technology and most of us are quite unaware of its potential. This technology potentially could make us obsolete even before it makes us extinct.