February 06, 2018 Quantum Computing

Yeah, yeah, yeah, AI is all the rage. But can it really exist without quantum computing?

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Intel showed off its new Loihi AI and 49-qubit quantum chips at CES, Physical Review Letters published a study of a proposed quantum linear system algorithm that would help AI perform better and faster. The Washington Post recently ran an article on how and why “Quantum computers may be more of an imminent threat than AI.” I could go on. Artificial intelligence is in one of the biggest hype cycles in history. Everyone from scientists to world leaders have their opinions on whether the technology will save humanity or destroy it.

You know I lean toward the “technology is a good thing,” optimistic view of the world. I don’t don’t waste a lot of thought on killer AI and our future robot overlords. But today I wanted to pose a question.

Can artificial intelligence truly exist without quantum computers?

Classical computer architectures are driven by basic gates, ones and zeros. And while we have achieved so much with them, we haven’t been able to simulate the human brain. I posit that’s due to the tools we’re using and their underlying architecture. Nature is quantum mechanical. The human brain is quantum mechanical. Perhaps the only way we will ever truly achieve artificial intelligence is using a computer that’s quantum mechanical.

Are quantum computers the key to unlocking the world-changing potential of artificial intelligence? If the first sentient AI has a quantum mechanical architecture, will it really be artificial? The answer is yes, obviously, but it sounded deep enough that you thought about it for a minute. I think that quantum computers are the key to realizing a robust artificial intelligence in my lifetime. Will we be able to replicate the human brain? Given its complexity and the amount we still don’t know about how it functions, it’s impossible to know. But we’re darn sure going to get a lot closer with the processing power of a quantum computer than we ever will on our classical machines. In 50 years, we won’t be driving our own cars, flying our own planes, or fighting our own wars. Maybe the real question is, how well will AI be executing on our behalf?

Listen, I have to take a short break from the quantum commentary to address the rumors, e-mails, Facebook messages, tweets, and InMail (and that one snap chat someone sent; you know who you are). You all know by now I’m fascinated with quantum computing, because I never shut up about it.  I figure it’s time to do something about that. Which is why I’m taking a couple weeks off to launch my own entry into the quantum computing fray.

I think we’ll soon see a quantum computer demonstrate quantum supremacy in a way that we can all take to the bank. However, physicists and engineers in labs around the world are still struggling to overcome the hardware challenges. Quantum software applications might as well be an endangered species. Richard Feynman, the physicist credited with the idea for a quantum computer, once quipped, “By golly, it’s a wonderful problem, because it doesn’t look so easy.”

Last week I shared with you that mathematician Gil Kalai doesn’t believe quantum computing is possible. He says the math just isn’t there to ever achieve reliable, practical error correction.  Not that Dr. Kalai is alone in this belief, but there sure are a lot of major players that seem to think we’re on the verge of one of the biggest shifts in computing in the last 100 years.