Quantum physicist explains $100K offer for proof scaled-up quantum computing is impossible

Feb 08, 2012 by Bob Yirka weblog
Scott Aaronson

(PhysOrg.com) -- MIT researcher Scott Aaronson has certainly riled the physics community with his offer this past Friday, of $100,000 to anyone who can prove that scaled-up quantum computing is impossible. His original reason for doing so was, as he describes in his blog, due to adding his two cents to an argument between skeptic Gil Kalai and researcher Aram Harrow about assumptions regarding the Quantum Fault-Tolerance Theorem, on another blog, where he argued that refuting the idea of scalable quantum computing would amount to more than just taking apart the QFT Theorem; it would he suggested, mean coming up with a new version of physical reality. Then, because of the response he got from the blog owner, he felt compelled to defend his assertions in a rather bold and some might say, foolhardy way. Thus was born the $100,000 bet, or prize.

Now, after some time has passed and many hundreds of comments posted, Aaronson has posted to IEEE Spectrum, about the deeper reasoning behind the prize offer.

First he answers a query from IEEE’s Rachel Courtland, who wants to know why the possibility of a scaled up quantum computer has come up, and why does there need to be a prize about it?

From his answer it appears it’s because, as a quantum physicist whose goal is to find a way to create a scaled up quantum computer, he gets an awful lot of comments on his questioning his career choice in light of the fact that there is no certainty that his goal is even achievable. Many of the posts have clearly irked him and he now in response, appears to be hoping that his daring those who throw stones from afar, will either pipe down, or simply go away. Or, perhaps, miraculously free him from his dream by proving that it’s an impossible one that will lead him and the rest of his colleagues to eventual embarrassment.

It’s clear that Aaronson believes a means of building a true scaled up quantum computer will be found one day, and that the problem at this juncture, as Courtland points out, is more one of pouring additional resources into figuring out how to make it happen, rather than sitting around wondering if it’s possible. He points out that as everyone in the small community of quantum physicists knows, tiny quantum computers have already been built that can perform small, rather insignificant operations; hence the need for the “scalable” part of the prize. To win the money, someone would need to prove that what has been done so far, will never be done on a larger scale, i.e. building a quantum computer that can actually do useful stuff.

It’s all a matter of decoherence he says, where the quantum parts of the computer must of necessity interact with those that are not. Thus, the issue is whether that one little problem can ever be overcome. He clearly thinks it can, while others think not. Aaronson just wants them to back up their reasoning with actual science.

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User comments : 39

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Ryan1981
2 / 5 (8) Feb 08, 2012
Hmm, and then someone offers a $100.000 to disprove the theory that disproves the possibility of upscaling of quantum computing. After all the earth was flat and nobody could go faster then sound :P
cmn
1.3 / 5 (7) Feb 08, 2012
Wouldn't it really suck if somebody did come up with a (dis)proof. This guy would be out $100k and a career. :)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (18) Feb 08, 2012
This guy would be out $100k and a career.

I think you don't get what being a scientist is about. At all.
javjav
5 / 5 (8) Feb 08, 2012
Wouldn't it really suck if somebody did come up with a (dis)proof. This guy would be out $100k and a career. :)


If somebody prove it, it will save him from dedicating his career to something impossible. The $100K will worth it!

However it will not happen. The universe is made of quantum devices, we only need to learn how to use them.
Kinedryl
1.1 / 5 (8) Feb 08, 2012
I dunno, what the scaled-up quantum computing means, but we cannot beat the uncertainty principle. So that at the moment, when the information processing density of classical computers is already limited with uncertainty principle (not to say about heat flux intensity, etc.), then their switching into quantum computers couldn't bring any substantial advantage in processing speed at the same temperature. The point is, the maintaining of stability of quantum computers at room temperature requires such a redundancy of qabits, that the classical computers may be of the same effectiveness.
Eikka
1 / 5 (6) Feb 08, 2012
I thought proving a negative was logically impossible.

Or maybe that's the point.
javjav
2.5 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2012
The point is, the maintaining of stability of quantum computers at room temperature requires such a redundancy of qabits, that the classical computers may be of the same effectiveness.


Who said that it has to be built at room temperature?, Liquid nitrogen cooling is already available and it is not as expensive as it seems, it has even been used by gamers to overclok computers on their freaky partys...
Telekinetic
3 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2012
Quantum computing is in its infancy, so its full potential or limitations are unknown. If I was a betting man (and had that kind of dough to play with), I'd stake Mr. Aaaronson. My glass is half full (of qubits).
SincerelyTwo
1.8 / 5 (8) Feb 08, 2012
javjav,

I gave you 1/5. Here's why; liquid nitrogen is used for a short period of time to sustain volatile overclocks in contests, and liquid nitrogen needs to be continually fed into the system for that time period. Nobody runs a PC over the log-term cooled by liquid nitrogen, this is done only and strictly for contests and nothing else.

It is expensive and impractical for a long-term solution.

Any exceptions to the above will be 'rich' nerds who are bored and do it for the lulz.
JIMBO
3 / 5 (6) Feb 08, 2012
Where does an academic scientist get $100K to waive in the wind?
Perhaps his computing skills have been brought to fruition in Las Vegas ?
BTW, Scott is a computer scientist, Not a physicist.
El_Nose
2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2012
At this point QC is not about replacing computers but solving a few niche algos more effeciently. IN theory there are about 20 tasks that a QC could do the normal public - this mainly involve sorting and solution finding. And they would REALLY help v ery large organizations.

Go to his web site he clearly explains his motivations and this would not put him out of a job. the LHC is more likely to put physicists out of a job than anything else in our lifetime.

i will be very surprised if humans are able to keep 10^6 qubits stable. but if we can then 2^30 becomes a reality and the problems that could be solved there can realisticly be used to solve how to build a computer that can hold 10^10 and so forth -- a computer that would be able to tell you how to build a better version of itself... and still not 'know' what it is doing.
javjav
4.8 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2012
javjav,
Nobody runs a PC over the log-term cooled by liquid nitrogen


SincerelyTwo, who wants to run a quantum computer for long time? you should read a bit more; the interest on quantum computers is to solve very complex problems that can be solved by evaluating all possible solutions at the same time. Which means that they will find all solutions almost instantly!, no need to run a quantum computer for a long time.

My comment was just to point that temperature is not the main problem. This video demonstrates how to cool a PC with liquid nitrogen:

http://www.youtub...6znC848o

In any case the objective is not to make "personal quantum computers", but building them in specialized data centers. I don't know if they will be possible, but if they are you will use control them with your smartphone and an internet connection. Probably Google will keep them in their data centers and they will give you access free of cost.
Tausch
1 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2012
The concatenation 'independent error' is an assumption.
Independent events are useful mathematically.
Errors are useful too. Shows tolerance.
Much like our take on reality.
Callippo
1 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2012
It depends, what the "scalable QC" means. I'm pretty sure, the quantum processors are underway. But the Moore's law is valid even for classical computers too and the computational power is limited with uncertainty principle for both types. If the classical computers will hit this limit, the quantum ones will hit it too. After all, this may be one of reasons, why the Nature didn't evolve the quantum computer instead of human brain.
Turritopsis
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 08, 2012
why the Nature didn't evolve the quantum computer instead of human brain.


Can you prove that Nature isn't a quantum computer?
Callippo
1 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2012
why the Nature didn't evolve the quantum computer instead of human brain.
Can you prove, the classical computers aren't actually quantum one? In essence you can solve the Laplace equation with conductive paper in real time - and you can even say, you're using a quantum processor with extreme high number of qbits and precission - so it behaves as a trully analog computer. You couldn't beat such a device in speed.

The memo of this example is, you can always invent/propose some specialized system, which will solve some particular task faster, than the all other systems - but now we are talking here about CPU, i.e. the common processing unit, capable of emulation of Turing machine.

And I'm not even saying, such a CPU is not possible to realize with quantum computer - I just doubt, it will perform better than consumer electronics at room temperature. My uncertainty principle based objection is solely heuristic, independent to particular algorithm and technology used.
Turritopsis
1 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2012
The degree of control required over qbits in quantum processing is extremely high. What stops the qbits from communicating with quanta outside the processor. This destroys quantum computational states by introducing outside variables which dirty the process.

Aaronsons bet is quite secure. As long as the qbits can be kept in the correct quantum states, and as long as internal processor communication can be isolated quantum computing will have its day.

The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
daywalk3r
3 / 5 (18) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is incorrect/wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein:
If the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.

Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
3.1 / 5 (15) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
3.1 / 5 (15) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
3.1 / 5 (15) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
2.9 / 5 (15) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
3 / 5 (16) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
2.9 / 5 (15) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
2.9 / 5 (15) Feb 08, 2012
The only way quantum computing could be impossible is if quantum theory is wrong. The two are directly related.
The only way large scale QC could be impossible (in its currently proposed way) is, if the interpretation of QT, on which the fundaments of QC are built upon, is wrong.

As shown by Bohr in his famous QT disputes with Einstein - if the Uncertainty Principle is put on the very bottom of all fundaments of physics, then QT simply can not be proven wrong - at least not in an empirical way. That's also where Einstein had to realize, that it is pointless trying to argue against with reason.

Almost same as with the God Omnipotence Principle:
You can not prove the existence/non-existence of God, because he is almighty, and therefor able to render any attempts in doing so, ultimatively futile.

So, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in the world of "modern" QT physics, Aaronson's bet should be quite secure.
Plus, an exact definition of QC is also very scarce..
daywalk3r
3.3 / 5 (14) Feb 08, 2012
- double post - (please delete)

Also sorry for the previous double posts - allready called the cleanup crew :-/
Pete1983
not rated yet Feb 08, 2012
why the Nature didn't evolve the quantum computer instead of human brain.


Can you prove that Nature isn't a quantum computer?


@Turritopsis - "Nature" is a process. Asking if it's like a quantum computer is like asking if "falling" is.
Smashin_Z_1885
1 / 5 (3) Feb 09, 2012
Once again, another absurd article bordering on circular reasoning. Disregarding any of the ideas similar to "proving or disproving God", I will mention that large scale quantum computing is indeed possible, and in effect all around. Which makes me laugh really, since no one seems to notice. Two problems here; 1) Defining the boundary between quantum scale and macro scale is not known. Don't ya think we need to know this first before proceeding? 2) Current quantum theory completely ignores NUMEROUS VITAL FACTORS that MUST be reconciled before any of this idiocy can continue. I shall not provide any addition information, you must figure it out. Good luck!
Ojorf
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2012
..large scale quantum computing is indeed possible, and in effect all around.
Please explain, just because all particle interactions are quantum (all chemistry) does not mean everything is a quantum computer.

Defining the boundary between quantum scale and macro scale is not known.
It is because there is no clear boundary, quantum behavior becomes more dominant at smaller scales and classical at larger.

..quantum theory completely ignores NUMEROUS VITAL FACTORS
Like what?
Sorry, I really tried, you will have to supply additional info, I just cannot figure it out, it's killing me.
Robert Dole
1 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2012
I thought proving a negative was logically impossible.

That's idiotic. Did you make that up?
Callippo
1 / 5 (2) Feb 09, 2012
It brings me the similar situation on mind, when Christian community payed Templeton Prize to Bernard d'Espagnat for his "proof of God" with quantum mechanics. The Prize, valued at one million pounds sterling (approximately $1.42 million or 1.12), is the world's largest annual monetary award given to an individual.

The principle is always the same: such proof will provide a social credit and salary to many people - so that the community of physicists is willing to invest into proof of usefulness of quantum computers. The cold fusion will make the research of many physicists unnecessary (if not trollish) - so it's ignored (if not attacked) with physicists for twenty years heartily from the same reason. The fact, the cold fusion would be immensely useful for the rest of civilization plays no role in this collective stance.
Unquantum
1 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2012
QC relies on QM. Here is my experiment that defies QM: Use Cd-109 that emits one gamma at a time. Put two NaI scintillator detectors in tandem and see if the gamma is detected in coincidence, at rates exceeding chance. The detections must be full height. It worked. Chance was greatly exceeded. QM fails in a very fundamental way, therefore QC can't work. The experiment, theory, history, tests eliminating artifact, tests of many form with different detectors and sources etc, control tests revealing the conditions for success and failure, are all on my Unquantum website. We should expect a flaw in QM because wave-particle duality has always been a paradox. How can my experiment possibly work? Emission is quantized, but absorption is continuous. Planck's constant is a threshold (a maximum), and you will not see this unless you know how to do the experiment, the way I did it. You were misled by a false assumption in your textbooks concerning photoelectric time lag. I challenge.
epicurious
not rated yet Feb 10, 2012
You can't prove a negative, ahem. QED.
Foolish1
not rated yet Feb 12, 2012
All you need to know is the cost that must be paid to keep a quantum system together as the count of possible states increase.

If the cost increases anything approaching linear WRT state count then the answer is scalable QCs are impossible.
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2012
The water which makes up the body is structured into quantum coherent structures. We can see evidence that it's true each time that we ping these structures with MRI's.

The problem is that cell biologists have accepted assumptions of the role of ion pumps within cell membranes as fact. If established cell biologists listened carefully to the criticisms being offered by Gerald Pollack in Gels, Cells and the Engines of Life, they'd see that the arguments against the presumed role of ion pumps in maintaining these ionic gradients within the cells are very strong. And by following this logic, it becomes apparent that the cells behave as gels. They are *not* sacks of aqueous solutions held together by a membrane, because when we puncture those membranes, the contents do not "spill out". They are held in place by gels. By studying the behavior of gels and polymers in the laboratory, we can see that they come with ionic gradient functionality.

We ARE quantum computers.
twasnow
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2012
@telekinetic: "Quantum computing is in its infancy, so its full potential or limitations are unknown. If I was a betting man (and had that kind of dough to play with), I'd stake Mr. Aaaronson. My glass is half full (of qubits)."

I believe you mean your glass is both full and empty of qubits.
DaFranker
1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2012
@Those who say it is logically impossible to prove a negative:

Statements:
A -> ¬B
A
Conclusion:
¬B
Negative proven (¬B). QED.
DaFranker
1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2012
The thing is, the statement that it is logically impossible to prove a negative is flawed, where if it is true, then it itself must be impossible to prove, since it is a negative ("there can exist a proof of a negative", "there can not be a proof of a negative").

So, you see, you were saying that what you were saying was impossible to prove, thereby through your own statement making your own statement unverifiable. Get rid of that silly urban myth as soon as you can. It is not impossible to prove a negative. It is only difficult to prove the impossibility of achieving something within the real world, since we know so little about the actual system within which we would attempt to do this proof.
Callippo
not rated yet Feb 13, 2012
http://www.planet.../item648

Quantum computer with CPU and memory breakthrough