Monday, June 29, 2009

One Step Closer to Multiple Futures

My best example of a truly metaphysical question is, "How many futures are there?" The logical possibilities are "0," "1," "several," or "all." I'm undecided between "1" and "several." Some very smart people have just built a gadget that may help me decide between those two answers:
Researchers at Yale have succeeded in producing the first working solid-state quantum processor.
Quantum computers have the potential to do things conventional computers just can't do. The best current application for quantum computing would be cryptography--a lot of modern codes and ciphers rely on "keys" that can't be cracked without computers bigger than the solar system that would require more power than the sun puts out in a year. (We're talking about some serious computational requirements!) A working quantum computer could crack those codes in an instant. That's because they use an infinite number of timelines to produce measurable results in the here and now.

Each "qbit" in a quantum computer supposedly exists in all possible quantum states at the same time, as if all that little box contains "all the possible worlds" for the qbits inside it. That makes a quantum computer the ultimate "parallel processor."

If humans can ever get quantum computers to work, it may lead to a new view of our entire universe. The new physics of the 17th century paved the way for the Deistic concept of a "clockwork universe" where God created the world, wound it up, and walked off. The new biology of the 19th century enabled people to believe in an evolutionary universe where enough time and chance "just happened" to produce intelligent life.

If quantum computing works, the new information science of the 21st century could lead to a view of the whole universe as a quantum computer programmed to produce its own "observer." Some people will see that as a vindication of the "intelligent design" hypothesis. Others will say it proves "intelligent design" false. (The fact that people will predictably argue both sides makes me question whether the universe has produced any actual "intelligence" yet!)