A commenter on my previous post writes:
What all these scientists who are crying about the teaching of evolution should do is propose bets to creationists based on the outcomes of experiments … You think that these D-wave guys won’t be able to do something they’re claiming to be able to do? It might be a good exercise to make that statement precise … If someone has a conjecture of the form “There should exist a theory that explains X”, people roll their eyes, essentially because there’s no way of deciding the implicit bet.
Alright, imagine the following conversation:
Layperson: I just heard on the radio about this new Yood d’Shnood Theory of the Universe. What do you think the odds are that it’ll turn out to be true?
Scientist: Well, so far I haven’t seen any good evidence that…
Layperson: Sure, but what’s your prediction?
Scientist: As I said, the evidence seems to be explained a lot more easily by…
Layperson: But what if you had to bet?
Scientist: Well, there are two ways to think about this. What the Yood d’Shnood proponents argue is that…
Layperson: No, don’t give me a dissertation, just give me a number!
Here’s the thing: when my PhD diploma arrived in the mail, it didn’t imbue me with some sort of supernatural power to predict the outcomes of future quantum computing experiments, unmediated by the evidence and arguments of the temporal world. (This despite the fact that my diploma was signed by a time-travelling cyborg, in his official capacity as Governor of California and Regent of the UC system.)
Of course, the reason scientists worry about evidence is that ultimately, we want our theories to cohere with reality and our predictions to come out right. The experience of the last four centuries suggests this hope is far from futile. The trouble is that, once you’ve decided to adopt the evidence-centric strategy that’s worked so well in the past, you have to forget temporarily about betting odds. For the mindset of the scientist toying with rival explanations, and that of the Bayesian handicapping horses in a race, are (at least in my experience) simply too incompatible to inhabit the same brain at the same time.
If you’ll forgive the metaphor, asking for gambling odds on every scientific question is like asking a woman to sleep with you on the first date. Of course it’s in the back of your mind (and possibly not only yours), but it tends to be counterproductive even to bring it up. If you’re ever going to reach the summit, then you have to act like all that really matters to you is the climb, and the only reliable way to act like it is to remake yourself into the sort of person for whom it’s true. Such is the paradox of science and of life.
So, did D-Wave succeed in using the quantum adiabatic algorithm to solve Sudoku puzzles in fewer steps than those same puzzles would be solved with classical simulated annealing? I don’t know. To repeat, I don’t know. What I know is that I haven’t seen the evidence, and that the burden of providing such evidence rests with the people making the claim.