The Coming of the Quantum Economy


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?


13 thoughts on “The Coming of the Quantum Economy”

  1. My post computation and reality discusses the need for faster computation in biological research and especially drug design.

    I do think it’s important to note that faster computers will not always make problems solvable. In atmospheric research (for weather and climate studies), faster computers will enable a finer mesh, so that computation of each time interval can encompass many more points. But how do you get the initial conditions (temperature, pressure, wind speed, etc) in each of a trillion different points? This is a physical and logistical problem, not a computational one.

    And in financial and economic modeling, the problems deal with predicting human reactions to various events and also avoiding dangerously trendy thinking on the part of the modeler. The reasons why the models of collateralized mortgages security performance were so wrong had little to do with the available computational speeds.

  2. Nations can’t restrict technology today because there is no longer any such thing as a national economy. No one nation can function on its own, even in the case of manufactured items it specializes in.

    Even military technology increasingly uses off the shelf tech. A lot of the technology that is supposedly more advanced than civilian tech is actually just things that only the military uses. There is considerable evidence that things like the NSA computers might actually lag behind a bit (they compensate by brute force application of a lot of older tech.)

    The other problem is the speed of the advance. Government is to cumbersome to regulate tech. By the time they figure out something is important, its obsolete. Look at our attempts to restrict exports of high-end computing gear in the 90s.

    Neither do I think quantum mechanics will be a big game changer short term. Firstly, these kind of “breakthrough” stories show up rather routinely in the field so I expect it will take a couple of decades to manifest. Secondly, there is a big difference between a lab technology or a custom military technology and a game changing mass produced technology.

    Thirdly, sheer computing power isn’t the bottleneck we face these days. That is why you don’t see so much bragging about chip speeds anymore. We’ve got plenty of power now, we just have to figure out how to get enough data in and out of the chips to make them useful. A lot of discussion about quantum computing revolves around this issue. It is as if we could build a formula one race car but the only surface we could drive it on was a corrugated dirt road.

  3. Hey David and Shannon,

    Appreciate your input as I am outside my field with this post and I take some comfort from the fact that you two are sanguine. At ZP, Dave Schuler, who has an engineering background commented that quantum computing has been unrealized for some forty years and he was skeptical that it’s arrival was imminent.

    I agree that government is cumbersome and it would not hold back this tech forever, or perhaps even for long but national security interest in quantum computing will be high, starting for reasons of cryptological security and secondly, for genetic engineering implications. There will be a window of time where they will want to grab “first use” or regulate the initial dissemination of the tech as they did with supercomputers in the COCOM era. My primary worry is that the government bureaucrats making such decisions may not be Americans and we might be left on the bad side of that equation.

  4. The predicted development seems to be more of an enhancement (and hurrah for that) than it does a revolutionary development. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a relatively old axiom but will continue to rule, generally speaking.

  5. machine intelligence isn’t going to be a function of chip speed. the problem with current technology is the amount of heat produced.

    these reports of quantum computing have been around for at least 25 years, and who knows, maybe it will become usable and real one day.

    once we have technology that is more organic, then i expect some really important advances.

  6. You say the corporatist Bush administration was

    – Indifferent to venture capital start-ups
      Government should be neutral about start-ups, and all industry.
      How was Bush indifferent in a bad way?

    – Explicitly hostile to basic science research
      Government funding for stem cells, yes. But private funding
      was not barred. Other research?

    – Xenophobic toward top-notch H1-B and foreign grad student talent
      Was this more so than prior administrations?

    Could you provide links or additional information about the above?

  7. Hi Andrew,

    No offense, but as a rule, I do not accept “homework assignments” from commenters on tangential points in my posts. I didn’t support my offhand slam on the Bush administration for the same reason I didn’t support the subsequent knock on Obama (which I take, you were fine with) – it’s not what I was primarily interested in discussing here.

    If you would care to write a paean in the comments section to George W. Bush the Father of venture capitalism, the Friend of Science or the Benefactor of high skill immigrants, go ahead, I’ll read what you have to say. However, being aware of things, like, say the H1B quota level in 1999 vs. 2009 or how the administration used scientific advisory panels in making policy or reviewing grant applications might get in the way of such a polemic.

  8. To Zenpundit,

    OK. You have put me in my place. In the future, I will consider identifying what is an offhand comment of yours and not ask any questions about it.

    You seemed to have a well formed opinion and might be a source of information. Maybe you had a post on this offhand remark. I wouldn’t know, and it seems you would rather put down a question rather than supply some background for your opinion.

    It is strange to me that you think I am assigning you homework. If you have only an opinion and no references, then it might seem like homework to you. It can be bothersome attempting to enlighten the ignorant.

  9. Andrew,

    If I wanted to write a lengthy post bashing the Bush administration and document my various dissatisfactions with them, I could and would. They were better than the current crew, to be sure, and had some good moments, but they nevertheless did the country, the GOP and conservatism in general a considerable amount of damage, IMHO. If you are still a fan of W, fine.

    I’m not trying to “put you in your place”, you’re welcome to express your views here whenever you like and as you see fit, disagree with me, get on a soapbox etc. I think the record is pretty clear, but reasonable ppl can differ.

  10. D S Cardwell, in his book Turning Points in Western Technology, bserves that during the late 1700s and early 1800s, the state of French science and mathematics was very advanced–more so than that in Britain–and asks the question: Why was industrial development in Britain so much more successful than that in France? One of his answers:

    “ is possible that the very virtues of the French system militated against economic success. France was, as Britain was not, a centralized country. Paris, the capital, was also the only important centre. It is natural for functionaries to favour centralism: it is so much tidier to have everything run from one big central city. Accordingly talent was drawn to Paris and the Ecole Polytechnique…In England on the other hand there were several important centres besides London…All these active centres meant a wider and more effective diffusion of talent than was possible in France.”

    Government-directed industrial policy, whether focused on steam engines and power looms or on biotech and quantum computing, tends to lead to excessive resources being devoted to officially-endorsed orthodoxies and the starving-out of dissenting approaches. More thoughts on the Cardwell book at my post here; see also Leaving a trillion on the table.

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