Fun with history

A recent poll of more than 700 IEEE Fellows provides this amusing little nugget:

Seventy-eight percent of respondents doubt that a commercial quantum computer will reach the market in the next 50 years.

Unfortunately for these hallowed Fellows, commercial quantum computers already exist; you can buy a liquid state NMR machine from Bruker for about $1m a pop. A case of mass extralusionary intelligence?

In the vein of otherwise competent experts making stupid statements, let’s stroll down memory lane. It’s more fun if you say these out loud. With gravitas. Also some pompous posturing doesn’t hurt, and experimenting with accents is also fun.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” — Western Union internal memo, 1876.

This one I particularly like:

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

Uhhh…birds? Did they have those in 1895?

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

Note: Apparently this one isn’t real, at least according to Kevin Maney. (thanks to Tim for the link).

“I see no progress in this industry. These clocks are no faster than the ones they made a hundred years ago.” — Henry Ford, while visiting a museum.

Note: This one looks suspect also.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

“Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18 000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers of the future may have only 1 000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1½ tons.” — Popular Mechanics, March 1949.

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

“But what… is it good for ?” — An engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, commenting on the microchip in 1968.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president/founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

13 thoughts on “Fun with history

  1. If you think a liquid-NMR device counts as a quantum computer, then you missed a few points in your QC class. It can’t do anything that a classical computer cannot simulate.

  2. Lazaro: Are you arguing that NMR QCs aren’t QCs? Upon what do you base this argument?

    Tim: Yeah I have been having a tough time compiling Fight Night 3 on our NMR QC. Damn gate model QCs.

    Seriously though, whether or not a QC is commercial (and NMR QCs certainly are) is not related to whether they are competitive with silicon (NMR QCs certainly aren’t).

  3. @Lazaro: I don’t know very much about QC’s but I do know one thing: no quantum computer can do anything that cannot be simulated on a classical computer. QC’s are equivalent to Turing Machines in computational power. So maybe you need to go back to QC class. QC’s are not capable of hypercomputation e.g. solving the halting problem.

    The power of QC’s is the ability to efficiencly solve problems that cannot be efficiently solved on classical computers.

    @Geordie: When a QC can break 512 bit public key encryption in less than an hour then QC’s will have some commercial potential. At present as far as I know the best a QC can do is factor the number 15 using 7 qubits. But 15 = 5 x 3 so a QC is about as good at factoring as a 3 year old child. This is a disgusting joke. The IEEE scientists are wrong I think. 50 years is an eternity. However we are very far from commercial QC right now. And whether a QC is commercial is related to whether they are competitive with silicon. If a QC is not competitive then why buy one? QC is commercial when companies start using QC’s for things other than researching QC’s.

  4. assman: Breaking public key encryption is NOT a commercial application. It’s value to a company is approximately zero. It is a total red herring IMO. Also QCs CAN do things that can’t be simulated on conventional computers (see our Science paper in the widget bar re. quantum chemistry). I disagree with your definition of commercial. Commercial means someone is making money from it, it has nothing to do with being competitive with silicon. Being better than silicon at something of course might immensely increase the size of the market, depending on what it is.

  5. @Lazaro:
    “If you think a liquid-NMR device counts as a quantum computer, then you missed a few points in your QC class. It can’t do anything that a classical computer cannot simulate”

    Could you please provide some background information on why NMR QC’s are not QC’s?

    “Breaking public key encryption is NOT a commercial application. It’s value to a company is approximately zero.”

    I agree on this although there are companies offering ‘password retrieval products and services’ on a commercial basis. But Shor’s algorithm is actually an application of phase estimation procedure. And quantum phase estimation should have a commercial value above zero.🙂

    “Also QCs CAN do things that can’t be simulated on conventional computers”

    Can’t be simulated ‘efficiently’ on conventional computers?

    “whether or not a QC is commercial (and NMR QCs certainly are)”
    “Commercial means someone is making money from it”

    So, if commercial means ‘profit’ and not ‘VC money’/’grant money’ then how NMR QC’s or superconducting QC’s can be described as commercial?

  6. @Geordie:

    I just read your explanations on ‘commercial’ at Quantum Pontiff.

    “Bruker sells NMR machines into this market for about $1M a pop. I think this qualifies as a commercial QC doesn’t it? A company makes money selling QC components?”

    Wouldn’t it be quite a stretch to describe a company which provided laboratory equipment to Shockley/Bardeen/Brattain as a ‘commercial semiconductor company’?

    BTW: This debate (quant-ph/0310130) might be interesting in the context of the IEEE poll.

  7. What I mean is this: an NMR QC device needs an exponentially increasing precision to operate. That is, using N qubits takes exp(N) precision.

    That disqualifies it as a QC. Any classical computer can simulate that with the same increase of resources.

  8. Lazaro: That is an interesting argument, but I think it’s wrong. The difference is for the classical computer simulating a small number of qubits, the underlying physics of the information in the bits is classical. In the NMR QC, the objects that store information (nuclear spin states) are quantum mechanical. This is what makes it a QC. The mechanisms for the exponential prices you pay to increase #s of qubits are very different in the NMR vs. classical cases. Also the underlying reason NMR doesn’t scale isn’t a precision requirement, it’s signal to noise (which does indeed drop exponentially).

  9. Pingback: Science Sunday: IEEE, Wired and Computer Sequencing » Doctor Recommended

  10. Pingback: What is a Commercial Quantum Computer? « nextquant Blog

  11. Pingback: A great question «

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