Black book cover for "Quantum Computing" and headshot of smiling physicist Michio Kaku, with Einstein-like bright white hair

Quantum Supremacy by Michio Kaku

Newtonian physics works for most of our everyday experiences. But for the biggest systems we encounter, we need Einstein’s theories of relativity to make sense of spacetime.

Neither, nor does our own intuitive understanding of the world, work at the smallest scale we understand. This is the quantum level, where electrons can be at two places at the same time, transmit information faster than speed of light and instantly analyze infinite paths between two points.

As Danish physicist and Nobel laureate Neils Bohr (1885-1962) wrote: “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it.”

And much like we didn’t understand all the ramifications of the atomic age before we developed nuclear weapons, governments and companies are busy investing in the military and commercial implications of the potentially radical advancement in quantum computing.

That’s the timing from prominent physicist and science communicator Michio Kaku in his 2023 book “Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything.”

By no means exhaustive, I picked up the book for a primer on the technology my work overlaps with. Below I share my notes for future reference.

Here are my notes:

  • Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), who influenced quantum mechanics, published a lecture and essay in 1959 called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” that introduced the atomic level for physics research (leads to quantum discoveries)
  • Quibits, entanglement and superposition are basics of understanding why it’s exponentially more powerful (quantum over digital). In short:
    • Qubit: Or quantum bit, is the quantum mechanical analogue of a classical bit; Rather than the binary value of zero or one, a qubit can exist anywhere between both states.
    • Superposition: Whatever that state is for a qubit
    • Entanglement: the phenomenon whereby a pair of particles have indefinite states until measured, and the act of measuring one determines the result of measuring the other, even when at a distance from each other (seeming as if that information travels faster than the speed of light, which is supposed to be impossible).
  • “Silicon Valley may become the next Rust Belt” (Because this will be such a radical change, author argues)
  • Transistors today are 20 atoms across (and shrinking), but a law of physics say at 5 atoms across their properties will break down; That’s a billion transitions on a fingernail, and we assume we’ll hit some kind of limit
  • Our lack of control over “coherence” is the biggest obstacle facing quantum computing right now
  • This is why they use near zero temperature conditions to reduce vibration and other disturbance to quantum computing but photosynthesis and other natural events are essentially quantum processes maintained across temperatures and effects; we don’t entirely understand (yet) what nature is doing that we aren’t
  • AI would be used by quantum computers, so the moment of artificial intelligence is seen as related to, and awaiting quantum computing advances
  • Antikythera mechanism (2nd century BCE) is the oldest known example of an analogue computer, which predicted solar positions
  • Goedel breaks Hilbet’s incompleteness theorem (more here): there are provably unprovable true statements in mathematical systems
  • Harry Hinsley estimates Turing and others shortened WW2 by two years and 14 million lives, yet his work was classified and later killed himself, attributed to reputational damage (and bigotry tied to his being gay)
  • All computers today are effectively Turing machines (binary transfer of everything to computation
  • Max Plank quantum theory: Plank’s constant is like a radio dial; turn it up and Newtonian principles work, turn it down and they don’t
  • Newtonian determinism, or classical physics
  • Rayleigh -Jeans catastrophe on a misunderstanding (side note: Rayleigh scattering is essentially the answer to ‘why is the sky blue’)
  • Schrodingers wave: “chemistry had been reduced to physics” said the author
  • Heisenberg uncertainty principle: we cannot know both the position and speed of a particle, such as a photon or electron, with perfect accuracy; the more we nail down the particle’s position, the less we know about its speed and vice versa
  • Bohr “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it”
  • Einstein: “The more successful the quantum theory becomes the sillier it looks”  
  • After a series of them, the Bohr-Einstein debate in 1930 at the sixth Savoy conference: Einstein thinks he wins by noting two electrons would maintain coherence no matter how far they are, seemingly faster than speed of light, which he viewed as impossible. At present, we think what he said was true, defending a stance he was intending to discredit.
  • Feynman essay on quantum
  • Introduced by teacher to “principle of least action” to calculate classic mechanics (calculate all the ways a ball could roll down a hill and it will go the one with least action)
  • Newtonian classical physics said the ball determines each microsecond which is least action but this other principle suggests the ball knows all possible universal moves and takes easiest (Feynman’s path integral rather than Newtonian
  • The mouse that goes each option in a maze one at a time, or quantum that goes all paths at same time
  • You extract numerical answers from a quantum computer by measuring the state of the electron and “collapsing the wave function” for a precise location
  • This quantum to macro world transition only when we seek an answer is philosophically seismic
  • Everett and Deutch developed the “many worlds” theory to help explain how this could be possible
  • Steve Weinberg explains many worlds and parallel universes: Sitting in your living room there are many radio stations but you’re only tuned into one (coherence with one)
  • David Deutsch: why are quantum computer so powerful? Because the electrons are effectively calculating simultaneously in parallel universes
  • Peter Shor at AT&T on security concerns of quantum

Six types of quantum computing, all of which are being explored in some way today
    1.    Super conducting
    2.    Ion trap
    3.    Photonic
    4.    Silicon photonic
    5.    Topological
    6.    D Wave “quantum annealing”

Other notes:

  • Schrödinger ‘s wave equation and then 1944 book What is life “life force” inspired Crick and Watson
  • Three stages of biotechnology:
    • Mapping genome (Gilbert and human genome project)
    • Determining function of gene (Francis Collins)
    • Modifying genome (now)
  • Fred Hoyle (1915-1964) and panspermia (life was created in space and transported to Earth)
  • Photosynthesis which creates carbon dioxide, sunlight and water into sugar and oxygen is highly efficient process we don’t entirely understand — maybe it’s quantum mechanical (can quantum computers identify molecular level change to replicate what took billions of years to evolve an make efficiency ?
  • In the 1600s, Jan van Helmut weighed plants and soil over time and disproved a theory that plants “ate” soil to grow, speculating it was water, then Joseph Priestly (P. 119)
  • Quantum Mechanics of Photosynthesis:
    • “Many scientists believe photosynthesis is a quantum process. It begins when photons, the discrete packets of light, hit a leaf that contains chlorophyll. This special molecule absorbs red and blue light, but not green, which is scattered back into the environment. Hence, the green color of plants is due to the fact that green is not absorbed by them. (If nature had created plants that absorb as much light as possible, plants would be black, rather than green.)
    • When light hits a leaf, you would expect it to be scattered in all directions and lost forever. But here is where quantum magic occurs. The photon of light impacts chlorophyll, and this creates energy vibrations on the leaf, called excitons, which somehow travel along the surface of the leaf. Eventually, these excitations enter what is called a collection center on the surface of the leaf, where the energy of the exciton is used to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
    • According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, when energy is transformed from one form to another, much of that energy is lost into the environment. So one expects that much of the energy of the photon should dissipate when hitting the chlorophyll molecule and therefore become lost during this process as waste heat.
    • Instead, miraculously, the energy of the exciton is carried to the collection center with almost no energy loss at all. For reasons that are still not understood, this process is almost 100 percent efficient.
    • This phenomenon by which photons create excitons that pool in collection centers would be like a golf tournament where each golfer fires a ball randomly in all directions. Then, as if by magic, all these balls would somehow change direction and score a hole in one each time. This should not be happening, but it can actually be measured in the laboratory.
    • One theory is that this journey of the exciton is made possible by path integrals, which we saw earlier were introduced by Richard Feynman”
  • Artificial leaf strategies
  • Fritz Haber (1868-1934) created artificial fertilizer, which saved millions of lives but controversial unknown figure: used in chemical weapons and the powerful but inefficient M Haber Bosch process that is energy intensive
  • Can quantum computers find a more efficient method?
  • Quantum computing could create “virtual chemistry,” replacing arduous lab work that classical computers can’t replicate at the molecular level because there’s too much data
  • Ford and gasoline beat Edison and electric because the energy density of oil is so nuch higher than batteries still today
  • Since Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), we still find antibacterial products by testing a promising substance, determining if it kills bacteria and identifying the mechanism; quantum computing could exactly reverse that and speed discovery (because we have enough computing power to make discovery)
  • Quantum computing also as early warning system of potential diseases from animals crossing over
  • In 1971, Nixon’s war on cancer hadn’t yet identified the right enemy: cancer is thousands of different types  of mutations in our genes from many factors
  • Quantum liquid biopsies to discover cancer
  • Why can dogs detect bombs but not machines? Their olfactory nerves pick up Individual molecules of certain odors with a sensitivity we have not approached with machines. Could a quantum computer?
  • Andreas Mershin at MIT is working on an artificial nose to replicate this
  • Cancer attacks: survey, radiation (particle beams), chemotherapy (poison) but immunotherapy developed with quantum
  • Quantum identified and CRISPR edits genetic diseases (like UPenn work on cancer)
  • Peto’s paradox: why don’t elephants get cancer more often?
  • Famous 1956 Dartmouth conference on AI: Marvin Minsky (1927-2016)
  • Marvin Minsky told this author that AI researchers have “physics envy,” wanting one big unifying theory but AI Is really a patchwork of different disciplines
  • AI (learning) and quantum computers (power)
  • Top down AI got nowhere; instead Rodney Brooks and others followed nature building learning machines , following Hebb’s rule to learn (ie. rather than giving rules about what makes a cat, instead give a system oodles of examples of cats and have it determine the rules)
  • “Common sense problem” that AI can’t follow
  • Computational biology (protein folding mapping)
  • Epic of Gilgamesh was in pursuit of immortality
  • Qin Shi Huang sent his navies to find the fountain of youth or don’t come back — they discovered Korea and Japan instead
  • Three laws of thermodynamics: the sun brings external energy to reverse local entropy (it isn’t a closed system here so immortality is theoretically possible
  • Hayflick limit of cells: 60 reproductions vector senescence
  • Biological immortality and digital immortality
  • Human civilization developed in between two massive ice ages
  • E= mc2 says a very small thing can have a whole lot of energy (Fission vs. fusion, for example)
  • Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) introduced a helio-centric model before Galileo in 1609
  • Apophis April 2029: quantum computers can help track and quantify these snd other parts of the universe
  • The Drake equation led to the Fermi paradox (where is everybody?”)
  • The 1859 Carrington event was a massive geomagnetic storm in space
  • Lord Kelvin (1824-1890) was among the first to speculate about dark matter (which pulls the universe together, in contrast to stronger dark energy). Kelvin wrote: Many of our supposed thousand million stars, perhaps a great majority of them, may be dark bodies.
  • The universe: Dark energy: 68%; Dark matter: 27%; H and He: 5% and Higher elements including us: 0.1%
  • Theory of everything: must include Einstein’s theory gravity; entire standard model of particle and be finite without anomalies (only string theory passes nearly so far)
  • Quantum level: electrons can be at two places at the same time, transmit information faster than speed of light and instantly analyze infinite paths between two points
  • Newtonian: the apple falls because at each micro moment it’s the right path
  • The Author’s own paper: since 2020 alone, 40% of the rise of wage inequality since Reagan era changes have been undone. That leaves wealth
  • Here other rich world countries help give insight: Germanys employment agency tallies jobs that face severe worker shortages and it’s up to 48 of 152 they watch — mostly technical not requiring advanced degrees, with shortages most pressing in construction and healthcare
  • Where does that leave tech economies? The wage premium that accrues to those with college degrees is shrinking
  • This is all timed with union gains, four hour work week pushes and employee wellness demands. Employers not responding aren’t paying attention to structural changes underfoot

Leave a Reply