Hello – please pause your picture-in-picture viewing of Love Island and The Olympics. This week I was rather under the weather, so I didn't have the energy to jizz my opinion all over the news. Therefore, I sort of focussed on the one thing that I thought was most interesting – I hope you don't mind.
Anyway, this week was sort of okay I guess? 🤷🏻♀️. I can't tell if the one thing I focussed on is good or bad...
- The future of quantum computing lies in a crystal... made of time
- A small note about Facebook getting around encryption
- A small note about machines trying to impress other machines with SEO
🔮 As a matter of fact: time crystals
Get it? Matter? Because time crystals are a new phase of matter — like liquid, solid, gas, and plasma (I don't know what plasma is, but it's matter, okay?). Confused yet? Time for a FAQ then!
What's a time crystal?
It's a thing... that was only theoretical up until now — maybe — because Google have perhaps used their quantum computer to make one (or many?) time crystal(s). But we're not sure, this hasn't gone under peer review yet. So they could be lying or wrong (Google is often those things). I appreciate none of this explains what a time crystal is, consider asking again later.
I've only been pretending to know what quantum computers are this whole time so that no one would make fun of me. What are they please?
🤪 Excruciatingly simplified explanation: a quantum computer is just a very very fast computer — because in the world of tech, progress is synonymous with speed.
👩🏫 Better explanation that I might still get wrong, don't @ me: I'm afraid I've only been able to understand quantum computers when compared with normal ones so that's what you're getting:
- Normal computers use binary to calculate things. A binary bit is either a 0 or a 1. So computers make decisions based on a complex series of binary outputs: on or off, true of false, etc. That's it; that's normal computers
- Quantum computers are exactly the same except a quantum bit (qubit) can be a 0, a 1, or both at once. So actually... they are not the same at all.
Practical example: let's say you're trying to guess someones password (like any secret agent, criminal, or activist might — which one you are depends on which government is in charge of you).
🚫 A normal computer would try every password until it finds the right one. This could take a billion years, so it's not a great method if you're under a lot of pressure.
🤯 A quantum computer would find the correct password in just a few minutes; as mentioned, qubits can be in a state of 'both things at once' so when used correctly in combination, they can find both the right answer, and the wrong answers all at the same time.
- Then it uses something called a grover operator to flick all the wrong answers out of the way, and reveal the right one. I honestly don't understand how a grover operator works, so my explanation stops here — but suddenly the header image makes sense...
Does this mean a quantum computer could be used to very easily break hashes and other forms of encryption, including the ones we use on our precious, highly secure blockchains?
Yes it does mean that — but only in theory because actually whenever you observe something in the quantum universe, it changes. That means it's difficult to interpret the results of a quantum computer, because you alter outputs just by... trying to figure out what the outputs are. Once again, I don't know how this works, so please look at this Wikipedia page on decoherence that I didn't read.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING: what's a time crystal?
Okay so a time crystal is a THING (a physical object) which does not suffer from decoherence. It's LITERALLY the missing piece of the puzzle in quantum computing. Not only do time crystals behave when you look at them, but they seem to also appear to be both stable and ever-changing at once. A time crystal can move and change constantly without ever burning any energy 😱 😐 😵.
Why should I care about this?
Because it's INTERESTING. But also, because advances in computing are important. Maybe now we can invent teleportation — something that the uninitiated VC thinks is possible only via the metaverse 🙄. We also need the good among us to think about how this might be used to cause or contribute to harm — that thing that technologists love to do whenever they get a new toy.
🤹 Some other stuff you might like to laugh at ironically
These are the things I wish I had the energy to write more about this week...
☑️ Amazon has created a new box to check in it's mission to distract us from the fact that as a hyper-capitalistic consumer-centric logistics giant, they are systematically destroying our Earth — it's going to start selling returned goods as 'second hand' instead of shipping them to landfills in the global south.
🙅🏻♀️ Encryption may no longer be a problem for Facebook's advertising fetish, because they've just hired a giant team to figure out how to engage in homomorphic encryption, which is where you can analyse encrypted data without decrypting it.
🤡 A bunch of automation-obsessed nerds want to automate news headlines using Google's NLP engine BERT. According to this silly research paper which landed on my desk this week, they want to generate headlines which are perfectly optimised for search engines. In other words: they want to use machines to adhere to stupid, opaque rules that other machines came up with. Got it.
Thank you for reading, I only had to pause to evacuate my bowels once while writing this so I think I'm starting to feel better. On that disgusting note, goodbye!