Quantum Computer Will Make People Relearn

SUSU-TV presents the second episode of the authorial programme hosted by Igor Klebanov and called “Zolotoye Secheniye” (“Golden Cross-section”). In this episode, the Associate Professor and senior research fellow at the Department of System Programming of South Ural State University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Candidate of Sciences (Physics and Mathematics) in an interesting and understandable way talks about quantum computer.


There are researches in the sphere of quantum computer science carried out at South Ural State University. Quantum computer provides fantastic possibilities! The world’s leading scientists are excited with the idea of its creation and forecast various dates for this idea to be brought to reality. In this issue, Igor Klebanov considers himself to a “cautious optimist”. We talked to the author and the host of the programme covering scientific achievements about the upcoming science-and-technology revolution as well as about its consequences.

— What are the possibilities of a quantum computer?

— Its extraordinary computing abilities are a dream of contemporary scientists. Its basis unit of information – a qubit – can simultaneously be 0 and 1, unlike the classical bit. It is for a reason that the idea of creating this computing device considered fantastic for a long time. For a quantum computer, the problems that a classical computer will be solving within the time exceeding the time of the Universe’s life will be solvable for a foreseeable time. For example, 10 quantum bits (qubits) will replace more than a thousand of classical bits. Having 100 quantum bits, we obtain an incredible number: 10 to the power of 30. And this is multiple orders higher that the capacity of the most advanced supercomputers which “only” perform hundreds of billions operations per second.

— So when will our computers follow the fate of bleepers?

— Unfortunately, this question can’t be answered. Generally, for the first time the idea to create a quantum computer was said out loud more than 30 years ago. It was proposed by two outstanding scholars: Russian mathematician Yury Manin and American physicist, Nobel laureate Richard Feynman. Physicists, mathematicians and programmers have been developing this idea ever since. Nowadays, however, the problem of creating a quantum computer in a metal form still remains unsolved. The only existing are small-power test samples consisting of several qubits.

Large computer-making corporations and multiple research laboratories are trying to create a full-fledged quantum computer which would consist of at least 50 to 100 qubits. But so far, this problem remains technically unsolvable because there are serious difficulties. The thing is, these units of information should be stored somewhere without being damaged, but qubits are very temperamental, I would even say very sensitive. Their storage costs a lot of money and demands huge physical resources. Besides, we need to learn transmitting these units of information so that they would not get destructed during the transmission. We need to learn managing qubits, and right now this is a priority task. Therefore, it is hard to say when we will get rid of our computers as of useless machines. This might happen in five years or in fifty years…

— But is this going to happen for sure?

— And again, there are different opinions regarding this question. If I analyze this question as a physicist and a theoretic, I will come to a conclusion that this will happen. Because there are more and more new systems getting invented; they are more exotic and less temperamental compared to those that physicists are working with now.

— Let us say this has already happened. Is it possible that the quantum computer will turn out to be smarter than a human and enslave its own creator?

— This is an interesting question! Becoming smarter than a human is unlikely. Even the most complex quantum calculation can’t compare with capabilities of human intelligence. Although, without a doubt, possibilities of the quantum computer will be much closer to possibilities of the human brain. Moreover, it is nowadays already that models of quantum computers are used for simulation of human mental processes. What about enslaving… Basically, to be honest, ordinary computers have already enslaved people. We can’t live without the Internet or a smart phone… In other words, we are already dependent on electronics.

— So, in a prospect, the quantum computer will provide people with massive possibilities. But is it possible that we will discover something that crosses out the entire history of our civilization’s development? Won’t this horrify us?

— Crossing out is unlikely as every discovery has the limits of its applicability. Everything that we’ve discovered will remain within these limits. Another thing is that having started research with the use of the quantum computer we will really be able to discover some new phenomena, new laws that would correct or radically change our ideas about the world.

— Getting a new worldview is scary or enjoyable?

— At the beginning of the 20th century, the worldview had essentially changed. The theory of relativity and quantum physics came into existence. Was this scary for people in their everyday awareness or for people who are barely interested in science? By the way, those who are consumers of scientific results are those who, in my opinion, do not especially worry about the worldview.

— Do you imply that only scientists will horrify?

— They will be either horrified or excited… By the way, at some deep levels of our consciousness, we still think that this is the Sun rotating around the Earth, because our eyes tell us so. It is hard to explain that things are just the opposite when a child sees the Sun’s movement across the sky. The true image is a high-level abstraction to which we difficultly get accustomed at school. Therefore, we in our everyday awareness are quite narrow-minded.

Regarding the work of a scientist, it takes place here and now; it does not depend on what is going to happen. When Ptolemy was constructing his system of the world, he didn’t know that Kopernik will come into the light and propose an absolutely different system. So the purpose of a scientist’s work is limited by time frames, by the frames of his life anyway… Nevertheless, the worldview that currently exists is just some kind of approximation to the truth, a small step forward. So quantum computers are likely to contribute to this movement forward due to their incredible capacity and performance.

— Please tell us about research carried out in Chelyabinsk.

— Development in the sphere of quantum calculation is carried out by South Ural State University. At that, I would say, the university is in the mainstream of the world science. Small group of researchers is headed by Professor Sergey Podoshvedov. He and his students are developing one branch of this sphere, which are optic quantum computers. They are computers based on control over photons, the specially prepared quantums of light. This is not the only way to create a quantum computer, though a very prospective one. The group is having a finger on the pulse: the researchers publish articles in high-level journals and cooperate with specialists from abroad.

— What are the spheres for practical application of quantum computation?

— There are many such spheres. First of all, cryptography, the science of information coding and decoding. In order to break a code and get access to a credit card, one needs to expand a multi-digit number into simple factors. A quantum computer can make it really fast. Which means that software for protection will need to be developed because a classical computer will be useless against the quantum attack. Weather or financial forecasts can be made by a quantum computer as well.

— Will it be able to generate artificial intelligence?

— I would say that an essential breakthrough in this sphere is possible. It is now already that the theory of so-called neural networks is being developed. Unmanned cars which are to be controlled by these networks are being developed as well. But so far, there are only low-power samples. As soon as they create a big quantum computer…

— …The major part of people on the planet will become unemployed?

— You know, that is the question. I can barely imagine a computer that would replace a human doctor. Although, there is already a usual classical neural network called Watson which can make a diagnosis based on big data analysis. But it’s not a disease that should be treated but a patient. This means that in-person communication is necessary. And I can hardly imagine that the quantum computer will replace a teacher. Although, it is now already that people can learn online. But in-person communication is important in education as well.

Education is not only about information. This is a certain “twist” of human brain towards one sphere or another. Me myself is an experienced teacher and I keep thinking whether this “twist” can happen without participation of a human teacher. You can learn dancing “just for fun” with the use of Internet, but if you want to become a professional dancer… There is such an expression as “set the legs”, which can only be done by a human choreographer. It is also necessary to “set the brain” and not just fill it with information. I don’t believe that in this sphere the quantum computer will be able to perform better than a classical one, though the tool will be more powerful. In the industrial sphere, many things are already computer-aided. But after all, there is a living person who has to make decisions and press the button.

— So you are saying, there won’t be global unemployment?

— I think, the quality of work will change. It is clear that people will have to relearn. Any science-and-technology revolution leads to this. When mechanical machines had been created, the Luddite movement came into existence. In order to stay employed, they were breaking the machines instead of learning to handle them. But a quantum computer is not easy to break. So we will have to live under conditions of the quantum computer era. However, I would like to say it once again: all this might happen in a distant future. At that, even if I were an optimist seeing through rose-tinted glasses, I would keep recalling a wise saying: in every apparatus you first of all need to find the Stop button. I want to believe that the quantum computer will be used for a good, and the humanity will be smart enough to keep the civilization safe.

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Tatiana Stroganova, photo by the author
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