Chapter 18: The Quantum Leap

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones."

-Donald Rumsfeld, White House Press Briefing

“If you can’t explain something to the average person, you don’t understand it well enough.”

-Albert Einstein, 1922 Nobel Laureate in Theoretical Physics

“Hell, if I could explain it to the average person, it wouldn't have been worth the Nobel prize.”

-Richard Feynman, 1965 Nobel Laureate in Quantum Physics

Quantum computing is the natural evolution of computer science, and represents a complete rethinking of the architecture involved in creating a computer itself, with bits (representations of information), logic gates (providing if-then rules), and other core elements mirrored in the much more challenging setting of manipulating individuals atoms and electrons, rather than physical gears, vacuum tubes, or transistors. Quantum computing uses the material world to exercise computation at a much more microscopic level, though many of the mechanics and rules remain the same.  

This evolution is critical in many ways, but chiefly for the fact that working quantum computers will revolutionize computation just as much as the original classical computers did. Just as access to a computer in the days that Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak were young was scarce, so too is access to a modern quantum computer for students learning today. As this form of computing becomes more evolved, it may become more ubiquitous, though the physical and economic constraints for such systems will probably remain in play for a long time, just as classical computing moved from the room-sized ENIAC to your mobile phone.

To borrow from our earlier example of timekeeping, one can construct similar functions across a variety of mediums. An hourglass measures time by letting sand through a choke point at a set rate. A water clock measures time relative to the trickle of water out of a container, or into one. A mechanical clock executes the same function relative to its power source - usually a tightened spring. A quartz or electronic clock measures time corresponding to the rate at which electricity can move through a piezoelectric quartz crystal...

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