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The Coming of the Quantum Economy


From FT.com:

Computers set for quantum leap

A new photonic chip that works on light rather than electricity has been built by an international research team, paving the way for the production of ultra-fast quantum computers with capabilities far beyond today’s devices.

Future quantum computers will, for example, be able to pull important information out of the biggest databases almost instantaneously. As the amount of electronic data stored worldwide grows exponentially, the technology will make it easier for people to search with precision for what they want.

An early application will be to investigate and design complex molecules, such as new drugs and other materials, that cannot be simulated with ordinary computers. More general consumer applications should follow.

I bet.

I’m no computer geek, but I know a bit about economics. Quantum computing represents a moment of comparative advantage for the nation(s) that pioneers it akin to Great Britain being first with the Industrial Revolution. The first use for the world’s first lab functional quantum computer is to apply it’s power in other fields where innovation is stymied by previously intractable math problems, thus permitting a burst of patentable breakthroughs or discoveries that lead to applied scientific and commercial uses. The second use of the quantum computer’s power will be put towards solving problems related to optimizing quantum computing itself, both in terms of refining the systems and assembling arrays.

Advantages of this nature tend to be self-reinforcing and synergistic. The state that accrues these downstream spillover benefits of quantum computing in rapid succession could potentially leapfrog over everyone else to a degree not seen in centuries.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of the UK’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, who led the project, said many people in the field had believed a functional quantum computer would not be a reality for at least 25 years.

“However, we can say with real confidence that, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, within five years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers,” he told the British Science Festival, as he presented the research

The upside of holding this kind of technological  advance back from the commercial domain in order to “lock in” comparative advantage until the nearest quantum computing rival has gotten close, but not yet reached, operational use, will be overwhelming.

Don’t you feel great that the corporatist Bush administration was indifferent to venture capital start-ups, explicitly hostile to basic science research and xenophobic toward top-notch H1-B and foreign grad student talent while the Obama administration is explicitly hostile to start-ups and enamored of pouring scarce billions into rustbelt legacy industries, outdated infrastructure projects and oligarchic Wall Street paper shufflers instead of the high tech and VC sectors?


7 Responses to “The Coming of the Quantum Economy”

  1. Chris C Says:

    I never understand how (morally, ethically or indeed practically) and Government can be hostile to science research. When you look at what small amounts of Government money can do in terms of bootstrapping corporate innovation its staggering. Whether its tax breaks, funding and incentives, or even a (well  run and organised, non-bureaucratic) government agency like DARPA, the record is clear. When Governments invest in (without explicitly directing) scientific research, the rewards can be huge.

    I would love to see Government embrace the lessons of the Ansari X Prize. I’ll fully admit I got my figures here off Wikipedia, as thats all I have avaliable to me at my desk, but for a $10m dollar prize, $100m was invested in research and development of a vehicle which could reach space.

    We’re now on the cusp of low orbit travel, and we’ll certainly see the industrialisation and commercialisation of Earth orbit within our lifetimes, in large part because early intiatives like this gave companies the incentive to at least try and reach for the stars.

    What could be achieved by a Government which was motivated to give all fields of science the resources it needs to advance, without clinging to a desire to control the research and sought to educate the public on the benefits of research, rather than responding to the emotional reaction of the public to things they don’t understand. Even loosening regulation would be a good start.

    It feels like marvels, such as quantum computing, occur in spite of, not because of, Government.

  2. TDL Says:

    The last thing we need is more government involvement in science research.  Government, being a political entity, will divert funds to politically rewarding research as opposed to scientifically or commercially rewarding research.  Also, the reason that the X prize worked so well is because it was private.  In order to have a more dynamic start-up environment what is needed is less government involvement, not more.


  3. Dave Schuler Says:

    Also, I think we should control our enthusiasm for light-based computing.  I read the first journal article on the subject about forty years ago.  Am I saying that it ain’t gonna happen?  No.  I’m saying that I’ll believe it when I see it.

  4. zen Says:

    Fair point, Dave. The potential for quantum computing, as I understand it, is game changing, but I lack your engineering background or the physics expertise of Shane or Von to evaluate the timeframe properly.

  5. Genrewonk » Things to screw with your futurism Says:

    […] came across recently that should have some serious implications to anyone writing near-future SF.  The first post is actually kind of obvious, in fact it touches on one of the central themes of the singularity.  […]

  6. Chris C Says:

    Thanks TDL, sorry my point wasnt clear, reading it back it definately wasnt.

    I wasnt advocating more government involvement in science itself, I dont want a civil servant looking at a list of projects and deciding based on a committee system which of those projects get support.

    What I’d like to see is a more friendly regulatory system primarily, with money being fed into institutions (e.g. universities).

    My problem primarily is that politicians want to get involved in the right/wrong of science far too often, whilst not seeking to actually get a comprehensive understanding. CERN being a great example. There were serious politicians in the UK worried we might all plunge into a black hole, or be converted into strangelets, based on something they’d seen on the BBC news that morning.

    I used the example of the X prize as a system which has worked. I realise its a corporately funded intitative. But its a good example where a small amount of money can make a huge difference. There’s no reason that Governments could get involved in this sort of intiative.

    What we need is less Government involvement and intervention, but a Government which seeks to create a friendly regulatory framework, and enables the flow of money to institutions which do (or are capable of) great innovation.

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