The Year That Was <insert expletive of your choice>

Usually, I like to start a new year on an upbeat note, but this time I just cannot find the right fit. I was considering whether to revisit technology that can clean water - lauding the effort of the Bill Gates foundation came to mind, but while I think this is a great step in the right direction, this water reclaiming technology is still a bit too complex and expensive to become truly transformational and liberating.

At other times, a groundbreaking progress in increasing the efficiency of solar energy would have qualified, the key being that this can be done comparatively cheaply. Alas, the unprecedented drop in the price of oil is not only killing off the fracking industry, but also the economics for alternative energy.  For a planet that has had its fill of CO2, fossil fuel this cheap is nothing but an unmitigated disaster.

So while it was a banner year for quantum computing, in many respects 2014 was utterly dismal, seeing the return of religiously motivated genocide, open warfare in Europe, a resurgence of diseases that could be eradicated by now, and a pandemic that caused knee jerk hysterical reactions that taught us how unprepared we are for these kind of health emergencies. This year was so depressing it makes me want to wail along to my favorite science blogger's song about it (but then again I'd completely ruin it).

And there is another reason to not yet let go of the past, corrections:

With these corrections out of the way I will finally let go of 2014, but with the additional observation that in the world of quantum computing, the new year started very much in the same vein as the old, generating positive business news for D-Wave, which managed to just raise another 29 million dollars, while at the same time still not getting respect from some academic QC researchers.

I.H. Deutsch (please note, not the Deutsch but Ivan) states at the end of this interview:

  1. [1]The D-Wave prototype is not a universal quantum computer.
  2. [2]It is not digital, nor error-correcting, nor fault tolerant.
  3. [3]It is a purely analog machine designed to solve a particular optimization problem.
  4. [4]It is unclear if it qualifies as a quantum device."

No issues with [1]-[3].  But how many times do classical algos have to be ruled out before D-Wave is finally universally accepted as a quantum annealing machine?  This is getting into climate change denying territory. It shouldn't really be that hard to define what makes for quantum computation. So I guess we found a new candidate for D-Wave chief critic, after Scott Aaronson seems to have stepped down for good.

Then again, with a last name like Deutsch, you may have to step up your game to get some name recognition of your own in this field.  And there's no doubt that controversy works.

So 2015 is shaping up to become yet another riveting year for QC news. And just in case you made the resolution that, this year, you will finally try to catch that rainbow, there's some new tech for you.



Update: Almost forgot about this epic fail of popular science reporting at the tail end of 2014.  For now I leave it as an exercise to the reader to spot everything that's wrong with it. Of course most of the blame belongs to PLoS ONE which supposedly practices peer review.

11 thoughts on “The Year That Was <insert expletive of your choice>

  1. Well, the news is biased towards negative news. You never hear: (just making up the numbers) In India last year 500 million people did not have a toilet, but now that is down to 450 million.

    1. If there was such an improvement I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gates Foundation helped it along.

      As to the news situation, from a US perspective there have been far worse years following 9/11. But from an international PoV last year was pretty bad. The amount of refuges caused by the Syrian civil war is staggering, and just when the world should unite against the kind of terror unleashed in the middle east, Russia and the West no longer cooperate. There are countless conspiracy theories afloat that try to explain how this is all just one big chess game, but I think the truth is much more scary. The politicians on all sides just stumbled blindly into the Ukraine conflict. And Putin painted himself into a corner. It is the sheer incompetence that is the most frightening.

    1. It’s the Telegraph i.e. a waste of time, and the dude they cite has quite the record. You don’t need me to google this.

      I first learned of the glass house effect and the danger of global warming when I was a teenager – about thirty years ago. I have a science compendium book from 1988 that has a very comprehensive article on the accumulating evidence for climate change. The basic mechanism is not rocket science. The controversy is not about the science but entirely manufactured and political.

      Climate change denial is intellectually on the same level as creationism. I am greatful if scientists take the time to take on any of these idiots, it’s a dirty job that needs to be done, but I do not volunteer for it.

  2. Hi Henning: Thanks for educating me. I do find articles like this to be frauds, so I always have a skeptical eye, and that’s why I have to pass by somebody like you. Also, thanks for comparing it to creationism, since one of my all time heroes is none other than Richard Dawkins!.

    1. Once I hiked down the Grand Canyon and stopped to take in a particularly striking vista, then some random dude sauntered by and thought it was a good idea to strike up a conversation of how the beauty of this must be proof for god’s creation. Way to ruin the moment.

      Global warming deniers get me equally irritated, posing as being interested in the science while only serving an agenda.

      Always get cranky when I have to deal with that.

  3. Hi Henning: Here is something novel about the Big Bang Theory!. At the bottom of the page, there are links of the paper on the ArXiv and in Physics Letters B. However, because one the authors is from Egypt, it will, most likely, be dismissed out of hand!. Hope the scientists will study it carefully before passing judgement. The paper is too technical and well over my head!. However, I do get the gist of this non-technical article:

    1. Must admit I dismissed this as well, not because of the authors, but because of a general distrust that we can derive much on this level without a proper unified theory. Yet, this seems to be more substantial than many other exercises, so I am glad that you made me read it 🙂

      Fits well with Julian Barbour’s ideas that I find rather appealing (hope to get around to blog about this at some point).

  4. Hello Henning: Here is a recent and interesting talk at Google, by Dr. Daniel Lidar of USC, about QC in general and about D-Wave in particular. Thanks:

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