I have a special treat for those commenters who consider me an incorrigible publicity-hound: an essay I was invited to write for the New York Times Science section, entitled Quantum Computing Promises New Insights, Not Just Supermachines. (My original title was “The Real Reasons to Study Quantum Computing.”) This piece is part of a collection of essays on “the future of computing,” which include one on self-driving cars by Sebastian Thrun, one on online learning by Daphne Koller, and other interesting stuff (the full list is here).
In writing my essay, the basic constraints were:
(a) I’d been given a rare opportunity to challenge at least ten popular misconceptions about quantum computing, and would kick myself for years if I didn’t hit all of them,
(b) I couldn’t presuppose the reader had heard of quantum computing, and
(c) I had 1200 words.
Satisfying these constraints was harder than it looked, and I benefited greatly from the feedback of friends and colleagues, as well as the enormously helpful Times staff. I did get one request that floored me: namely, to remove all the material about “interference” and “amplitudes” (too technical), and replace it by something ordinary people could better relate to—like, say, a description of how a quantum computer would work by trying every possible answer in parallel. Eventually, though, the Gray Lady and I found a compromise that everyone liked (and that actually improved the piece): namely, I’d first summarize the usual “try all answers in parallel” view, and then explain why it was wrong, bringing in the minus signs and Speaking Truth to Parallelism.
To accompany the essay, I also did a short podcast interview about quantum computing with the Times‘ David Corcoran. (My part starts around 8:20.) Overall, I’m happy with the interview, but be warned: when Corcoran asks me what quantum computers’ potential is, I start talking about the “try all answers in parallel” misconception—and then they cut to the next question before I get to the part about its being a misconception! I need to get better at delivering soundbites…
One final comment: in case you’re wondering, those black spots on the Times‘ cartoon of me seem to be artifacts of whatever photo-editing software they used. They’re not shrapnel wounds or disfiguring acne.