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Blog

Do you think that quantum computing is theoretically possible?

By Hamish Johnston

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on my way to Vancouver for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, where the future of quantum computers is on the agenda.

I’m looking forward to catching up with Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been in the news lately because of his $100,000 challenge. The mathematical physicist is offering this princely sum to anyone who can convince him that scalable quantum computers are impossible. This might seem like easy money – after all, physicists have struggled for years to build even the most primitive quantum processors, and scaling these up to make a working quantum computer seems a tall order.

hands smll.jpg

But Aaronson isn’t talking about hardware, instead he wants you to disprove the underlying quantum physics that would make a quantum computer tick. “This is a bet on the validity of quantum mechanics as it’s currently understood,” he told me recently. Can he raise the money? Yes, and he even thinks it would be well spent because disproving some or all of quantum mechanics would lead to a revolution in physics. Has he received any serious entries so far? No, but there is no time limit on the challenge so get your ideas to Aaronson.

In this week’s Facebook poll we are asking if you think Aaronson will hang on to his hard-earned cash?

Do you think that quantum computing is theoretically possible?

Yes, for sure
No way
I’m caught in a superposition of yes and no

Last week we asked who is the most inspiring of the current communicators out of a list of six famous physicists.

The winner with 34% of the vote is Brian Greene of Columbia University. Runner-up is Oldham’s own Brian Cox, with 18%. And you don’t have to be called Brian to be on the podium because third place goes to Michio Kaku of the City University of New York with slightly less that 18%.

It’s interesting to note that Greene, Cox and Kaku have all had their own TV shows recently, so that could explain their popularity.

Rounding off the results, in fourth, fifth and sixth places, respectively, are Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lisa Randall.

Other suggestions from readers included Neil Turok, who is director of the Perimeter Institute in Canada, and Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey – who famously declared that he would eat his underpants if neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light. Other suggestions were Lee Smolin and Lawrence Krauss. If you would like to hear Krauss in action, he will be giving a live lecture on physicsworld.com on 6 March.

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