Tag Archives: quantum computers

The Age of Alexa


As a birthday gift for my daughters, Flora and Cora, their grandfather purchased for them an Amazon Echo (aka “Alexa”).

If you’re not familiar, the Amazon Echo / Alexa is a voice command controlled free-standing computer (with a nice speaker system to boot!) that links with your wireless network. Measuring some 9.3 inches with a circumference of 3.3 inches, Alexa can just about fit anywhere. In addition, it looks attractive (in a manner of speaking) and readily plugs into a regular wall outlet for power (it connects to your wireless network; no wired connections are required). With some adjustments and minimal amount of programming (took me all of 15 minutes to get it going) you’ll be able to give direct voice commands. Alexa can either answer your inquiries or (depending on your set up) control the lights in your house, control your thermostat, give you automatic news and sports updates as well as tell you the weather, your commuting time or even where the nearest restaurant (down to the type – Belgium ale house, Indian, Chinese, etc.) is to your house.

But doing a little research and experimentation, Alexa can do a lot more – and not just for your home (more on this in a moment).

As an old-timer, I’m amazed at this recent technological development if for no reason than I can appreciate what’s involved. First off, I’ve been working with voice command / recognition software since it first came out back in the 1990’s: things have come a long way. Used to be you had to spend about an hour just to ‘train’ the software/computer to recognize your voice (what with your inflections, accents, voice idioms, etc.) and then more time spent on getting it to do what you wanted it to do – open files, do basic computer commands, etc. And even then, it was rarely perfect: if you were hitting 95% accuracy, you were down great.

With Alexa, there was no hesitation: no training. Alexa was out of the box and running down the road in mere minutes.

Damn; that’s powerful.

No matter who you are, so long as you speak the language that it’s set for, it’ll respond. So literally out of the box, I and both my daughters were taking and using Alexa. Even now, my guests – upon visiting – now ask Alexa for the weather or for sport scores, along with local news as a matter of course, just as they would ask anyone else.

But aside from Alexa being able to give you a host of information – such as cooking recipes, bartending (excuse me, “Mixology”) recipes for drinks or for random facts (‘on this date,…’), with some adjustments and hardware / interface additions, Alexa can water your lawn, control /monitor your house alarms.

Sometimes, amusing situations can arise – such as when my younger daughter asked “Alexa: how old is the Earth?”

Alexa replied “The Earth is 5.35 Billion years old.”

“I knew it! Those people who keep saying that the Earth is only 7,000 years old don’t know what they’re talking about!”

So it’s all fun and games, right?

Not when you check out the IFTTT page for Alexa (IFTT – “If / then” user programming routines). Alexa comes with an ability for folks to program basic interface commands enabling users to link Alexa to various apps and also create routines. Want something done automatically? With a little bit of simple programming, anyone can make their Alexa do things automatically and with a mere voice command.

The potential for Alexa can go beyond just a cool item for the average household: the potential for business applications is also well worth considering. Aside from stock indexes, one could create business services and routines both for the average user and for the business / service end of things. Already, there are ‘recipes’ for users to link to their Evernote and Todoiast, along with dictating short emails (sending them out) or dictating voice message for your Skype. As one example, I can set up and schedule calendar events on my Google calendar just by using my voice – and it’ll appear on all of my calendars (phone, computer, etc. simultaneously).

I would not be surprised to see businesses – especially those who profess the notion of being ‘lean and mean’ – installing Echoes in their offices as means to better streamline operations (not to mention that Echoes could also be of good use for non-profit and governmental agencies as well).

In a manner of speaking, although this is not exactly new technology, the way it’s being recast is nothing short of remarkable. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Echo came from Amazon. After all, as I had previously written, Amazon and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been quietly working together for seveal years now, with Amazon’s in-house computer network now being the repository of the CIA’s records – and ground zero for a development project based in Vancouver, Canada for true AI (Artificial Intelligence) development (https://shockwaveriderblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/the-cia-and-jeff-bezos-working-together-for-our-the-future/) utilizing quantum computing. Feel free to read my past posting on this subject matter: it’s well worth the read and helps one to better appreciate what’s taking place now.

I cannot help but wonder if Alexa is but one minor result  / spin-off from that ongoing effort. And granted, Alexa may sound awesome and smart, but it’s certainly not about to pass the Turing Test.

If Alexa is any indication, we are indeed entering a new age  – the Age of Alexa.

The Race is On: Developing Quantum Computers (and Alternative Universes for Good Measure)


And so the race is on. Actually, it’s been on for some time now; it’s only now that we’re starting to see the ripples on the surface of what is otherwise a very deep and dark pool filled with very large creatures jostling for position.

It’s about processing.

It’s about the future.

Quantum computers would be able to solve problems much faster than any regular computer using the best currently known algorithms (such as those established via various neural network models).  Quantum computers are totally different and unlike anything we’ve developed before. Give a regular computer enough power, it could be made to simulate any quantum algorithm – but it wouldn’t be anything like a quantum computer.

Regular computers use bits; quantum computers use qubits, which are really funky, powerful things.  The computational basis of 500 qubits that would be found on a typical quantum computer, for example, would already be too large to be represented on a classical computer because it would require 2500 complex values to be stored; this is because it’s not just about the information that qubit is displaying, but the state of being where it (the qubit) is carrying that information which also plays into it’s creating an answer to any given query.

Bear with me, now,…

Although it may seem that qubits can hold much more information than regular bits, qubits are only in a probabilistic superposition of all of their states. This means that when the final state of the qubit is measured (i.e., when an answer is derived), they can only be found in one of the possible configurations they were in before measurement.

Here’s an analogy: take a regular computer bit with its black/white 0/1 configuration as a rubber ball with one side black, and the other side white. Throw it into the air: it comes back either as Black/0 or White/1. WIth qubits, it’s likely to land as either a Black/0 or White/1 but during the process will have changed into the colors of the rainbow while you’re watching it fly through the air. That’s the kicker with qubits: you can’t think of qubits as only being in one particular state before measurement since the fact that they were in a superposition of states before the measurement was made directly affects the possible outcomes of the computation. (And remember: the act of your watching the ball fly in the air also can influence the result of the ball’s landing – a point we’ll discuss very shortly regarding our old buddy Werner Heisenberg,…).

Quantum computers offer more than just the traditional ‘101010’ ‘yes no yes no yes no’ processing routines (which is also binary for the number 42, just in case anyone is reading this). Quantum computers do a (in a manner of speaking) ‘no yes maybe‘ because in quantum physics it’s more than just whether or not any given particle is there or not: there’s also the issue of probability – i.e., ‘yes it’s there’, ‘no it’s not’ and ‘it could be’. Quantum computers share similarities with non-deterministic and probabilistic computers, with the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously.

Makes you wonder what happens if we turn on a quantum computer: would it simply disappear? Or conversely, can we expect to see quantum computers appear suddenly in our universe for no apparent reason?

Doing homework will clearly never be the same with a quantum computer.

As Ars Technica points out (http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/03/quantum-computer-gets-an-undo-button/):

This (uncertainty) property of quantum mechanics has made quantum computing a little bit more difficult. If everything goes well, at the end of a calculation, a qubit (quantum bit) will be in a superposition of the right answer and the wrong answer. 

What this also translates to is that quantum computers offer a greater realm of questions and exploration, offering greater opportunities for more answers and more options and superior processing capabilities. Likely we’ll wind up asking questions to a quantum computers and get answers we didn’t expect lending to more avenues of thought.

In other words, you’re not going to see a quantum computer at your nearby Radio Shack any time soon.

So now let’s revisit that hairy dog notion of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as this plays directly into the heart of quantum computers:

One of the biggest problems with quantum experiments is the seemingly unavoidable tendency of humans to influence the situati­on and velocity of small particles. This happens just by our observing the particles, and it has quantum physicists frustrated. To combat this, physicists have created enormous, elaborate machines like particle accelerators that remove any physical human influence from the process of accelerating a particle’s energy of motion.

Still, the mixed results quantum physicists find when examining the same particle indicate that we just can’t help but affect the behavior of quanta — or quantum particles. Even the light physicists use to help them better see the objects they’re observing can influence the behavior of quanta. Photons, for example — the smallest measure of light, which have no mass or electrical charge — can still bounce a particle around, changing its velocity and speed.

Think about it: now we’re introducing computers based – in large part – upon this technology.

We’re approaching Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy technology here: the kind of thing where we ask one question and get an answer that’s not what we’re expecting.

Improbability drive, anyone?

The race for quantum computers is big; this isn’t just some weird science fiction notion or discussion in some obscure blog.  As we reported here at ShockwaveRiderblog back in October of 2012, the CIA and Jeff Bezos of Amazon were working on a formal agreement to develop a quantum computer. Now, it was just announced that the CIA is going to ‘buy’ a good portion of Amazon’s storage services (http://www.businessinsider.com/cia-600-million-deal-for-amazons-cloud-2013-3). Meanwhile, (as also reported in this blog last week) Google bought out the Canadian firm, DNNResearch expressly to work on the development of neural networks (and with Google’s rather substantial storage capacity this is also an interesting development). Meanwhile, the founders of Blackberry just announced an initiative to pump some $100 million into quantum computing research (http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/03/20/quantumfund-lazaridis-idINDEE92J01420130320). Gee, you’d think they’d pump money into keeping Blackberry afloat, but apparently there’s more money to be made elsewhere,…

And throughout all of this is what some scientists who are involved in this business won’t tell you up front (but are quietly saying this in their respective back rooms over their coffee machines) is that nobody really knows what happens if / when we develop a quantum computer and we turn it on.

Understand: we’re potentially talking about a computer where if/when we attempt to undertake a Turing Test with it, we could ask it how the weather is and get answers that seemingly don’t make any sense – until later on when we realize that it’s been giving us the answers all along: we were just too dumb to realize it was telling us what the weather’s likely to be the next month.

Note the distinction: we ask how the weather is and the (potential) quantum computer tells us an answer that we didn’t expect because we didn’t frame the question in a manner appropriate for that given moment.

Quantum computing is going to be a very strange place indeed.

Maybe the final answer is indeed going to be 42.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

– Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Whoo-Hoo! Beam me Up, Scotty!

627Well, not quite, but as reported in Universe Today (http://www.universetoday.com/99604/dont-tell-bones-are-we-one-step-closer-to-beaming-up/) it’s becoming more and more a reality. Recent major advances in the field of teleportation have been made opening up new and interesting pathways to other things as well:

While we’re still a very long way off from instantly transporting from ship to planet à la Star Trek, scientists are still relentlessly working on the type of quantum technologies that could one day make this sci-fi staple a possibility. Just recently, researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK have reported ways to simplify the instantaneous transmission of quantum information using less “entanglement,” thereby making the process more efficient — as well as less error-prone.
In a paper titled “Generalized teleportation and entanglement recycling” Cambridge researchers Sergii Strelchuk, Michal Horodecki and Jonathan Oppenheim investigate a couple of previously developed protocols for quantum teleportation.

So what? Now we have a bunch of guys hanging around trying to make Star Trek a reality – right? Guess again:

“Teleportation lies at the very heart of quantum information theory, being the pivotal primitive in a variety of tasks. Teleportation protocols are a way of sending an unknown quantum state from one party to another using a resource in the form of an entangled state shared between two parties, Alice and Bob, in advance. First, Alice performs a measurement on the state she wants to teleport and her part of the resource state, then she communicates the classical information to Bob. He applies the unitary operation conditioned on that information to obtain the teleported state.” (Strelchuk et al.)

It’s more than just ‘beaming around” the universe; the theoretical nature of teleportation also lies at the heart of creating a quantum computer – and this is very big business (as we already discussed in an earlier blog, “The CIA and Jeff Bezos: Working Together For (Our?) / The Future” in which the CIA is working with Amazon’s founder and Chief executive, Jeff Bezos, on the development of the world’s first quantum computer).

So understanding how transporters could theoretically work also impacts the development of the next generation of advanced computers – and with that, artificial intelligence, computer networks, the nature of how goods and products are processed and distributed, etc., etc., etc.

You get the idea; it’s not just about a bunch of geeks and nerds working on abstract notions: we’re talking about potentially big money and tremendous economic impact(s).

So where does all of this leave us now? Actually, pretty far along. Considering the sheer amount of information that makes up the also-difficult-to-determine state of a single object (in the case of a human, even simplistically speaking, about 10^28 kilobytes worth of data – or 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) – you’re obviously going to want to keep the amount of entanglement at a minimum. As the gentlemen from Cambridge point out:

Of course, we’re not saying we can teleport red-shirted security officers anywhere yet.
Still, with a more efficient method to reduce — and even recycle — entanglement, Strelchuk and his team are bringing us a little closer to making quantum computing a reality. And it may very well take the power of a quantum computer to even make the physical teleportation of large-scale objects possible… once the technology becomes available.

Remember: when we speak of transporters / teleportation, we’re really talking about the transmission of information. Teleportation is not just about magic and sci-fi stuff: it’s about hard data processing and transmission: get this down pat and we’re well on the way to bigger and better things:

“We are very excited to show that recycling works in theory, and hope that it will find future applications in areas such as quantum computation,” said Strelchuk. “Building a quantum computer is one of the great challenges of modern physics, and it is hoped that the new teleportation protocol will lead to advances in this area.”

Chances are, we may yet see a true quantum computer in our lifetime – and maybe, just maybe, we’ll also be able to ‘beam’ around objects, but not people anytime soon; the amount of information a person could be represented is likely to be staggering: it is estimated, on average, that an individual contains over 3 trillion base pairs of genes, and when one speaks of cells and the information contained by the billion of cells within us – and given that each of us are unique in our own way – don’t expect to see a working teleportation device anytime soon.

But a personal home teleportation device for objects? That may be coming sooner than you think. Just like fax machines sending written correspondence via electronic means we may have our own personal transporters, sending holiday or birthday gifts directly to our loved ones….

Back to The Future

As reported in Wired magazine, researchers at Cornell University and Microsoft are introducing a new data center design. As you can well understand, data centers are not only depositories of data, but also of wire – miles and miles of it – linking severs to each other, insuring against faults and failures while enabling rapid communications. Now, it seems a new design has come forward taking all of this one step closer to a new evolutionary level: a wireless data center.

Imagine a data center where there are no wires: communication’s chaos, eh? Considering how limited bandwidth can be, this is understandable. But what if the servers are close together – I mean, really close – then wouldn’t it be far more feasible?

Which is exactly what a former British mathematician, Arthur Cayley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Cayley) proposed (and no, he wasn’t talking about data centers, despite the best efforts of Charles Babbage  – and banish any thoughts of steampunk / “The Difference Engine” from thy mind!). Rather, Cayley’s works (among others; this is rather remarkable man who produced voluminous – and rather incredibly rich and powerful mathematical works of high precision and advanced thought) in this instance revolve around his notions of mathematical deigns. As the folks at Cornell explain:

“Caley’s responsible for showing that we have very strong connectivity,” says Hakim Weatherspoon, a professor with Cornell University who co-authored the paper. “So our wireless center can tolerate a very high level of server failure.” They call their creation the Cayley data center. It hasn’t been built yet, but if it does get funded, Weatherspoon believes that it will keep on working until 14 percent of the racks or 59 percent of the server nodes fail.

Networking companies have been working on 60GHz networking products for a few years now. These 60GHz transceivers operate at a much higher frequency than the Wi-Fi network you use at home. That means they’re speedier, but without the same range. By using a cylindrical rack design and reworking networking protocols, the Cayley researchers think they can cut down on outside interference and keep data pumping at about 10 gigabits per second. That’s remarkable, considering that 60GHz devices are supposed to operate in the 2- to 7-gigabits-per-second range.

Instead of engaging in back-and-forth communication chitchat you’d see in a typical wireless device, one Cayley server would connect with another, and then blast data, firehose-style to another, before signing off and waiting to receive information. Servers would talk to other machines within the rack using a transceiver on tip of the pie-shaped servers, and they’d reach out to other racks using a second transceiver on the back. So each server would be able to route data to the small number of other servers that it is set up to communicate with. That means every server is a kind of mini-switch — called a Y-switch — and none of the server racks need traditional networking switches for communications.

Wow; a fully functional data center that keeps on working despite a 14% server / 59% node failure? Tell me this isn’t Star Trek, why don’t you,…! The commercial applications are tremendous, but the potential for Cayley’s design goes beyond just regular data centers. Reading my prior posts regarding AI and quantum computers, you can well imagine – and appreciate – the power of convergence taking place: different aspects of technology meeting in ways and means heretofore not fully realized.

For more on this, read the Wired magazine article: http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/10/cayley-data-center/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=twitterclickthru

The CIA and Jeff Bezos: Working Together For (Our?) / The Future

In one of my prior posts I spoke at length regarding the recent efforts by the cool folks at the University of California – Berkeley who were able to fool a number of ‘qubits’ into allowing them to see if the proverbial cat (as in Schroedinger’s Cat) was alive or dead. In the words of Penny (from the television show “The Big Bang Theory”) ‘the cat is alive!’

And apparently the cat is alive – in more ways than one. Recently, what just leaked out is an ongoing ‘joint effort’ by none other than Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame (as in the founder and CEO, etc.) allying himself with none other than the United States Central Intelligence Agency – aka the CIA.

Amazon and the CIA in a business alliance?

Holy Sh*t, Batman!

And all of this is taking place in none other than a Canadian technology firm based out of Vancouver. Yes, Vancouver: the same city where most, if not nearly all of the X-Files episodes were filmed.

Amazon and the CIA in Vancouver?

So are aliens also involved?

Are you getting goosebumps yet?

Now, to some, it would be merger of two of the more tremendously powerful (and some would even say evil – as in BWAHAHAHHAAAA!) forces within our Known Universe. Regardless of what or how you feel, the fact is apparently notable folks think that there’s gold in thar hills of Quantum Computer Land.

What you may not be aware is that this has been going on for awhile – and they’ve been making big strides. In fact, what some critics have been saying on the subject of Quantum Computers that this is technology that may not be ready for another generation (i.e, twenty years) or so may very well be incorrect. Some industry experts are suggesting that quantum computers may become reality within the next several years (i.e, perhaps within the range of three to five years) and that shortly there after, they will be an item readily commoditized (i.e., as in you can buy one for yourself or for your company).

Imagine linking a series of quantum computers together into a cohesive network: using all that incredibly fast and powerful processing power opens staggering possibilities: cryptological utilization (that’s code breaking to you), advanced warfare planning, investment market strategies, weather forecasting, SkyNet, Neuromancer, er, ah,…

You get the idea: this is big.

It’s becoming evident that Kurzweil’s singularity is creeping up ever so much more quickly. I suspect that the Point of Singularity is similar to what we read in our rear view mirrors of our cars everyday: the reality is getting closer than we see – or realize.

Reminds me of that other notable line from the television show, “The Big Bang Theory”, when Sheldon confronts Penny and utters “with great power comes great responsibility.”


For more on this, check out this link: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429429/the-cia-and-jeff-bezos-bet-on-quantum-computing/

“The Cat is Alive!”

…to quote Penny from The Big Bang Theory (“The Tangerine Factor” episode). Scientists at University of California Berkeley did it, by employing very fine and very low key quantum observations, they were able to actually watch activity in such a manner without disrupting the state of affairs taking pace during their observations. As reported:

“By making constant but weak measurements of a quantum system, physicists have managed to probe a delicate quantum state without destroying it – the equivalent of taking a peek at Schrodinger’s metaphorical cat without killing it. The result should make it easier to handle systems such as quantum computers that exploit the exotic properties of the quantum world.” 

Still, it’s not a perfect solution:

Even though the measurement was gentle enough not to destroy the quantum superposition, the measurement did randomly change the oscillation rate. This couldn’t be predicted, but the team was able to make the measurement very quickly, allowing the researchers to inject an equal but opposite change into the system that returned the qubit’s frequency to the value it would have had if it had not been measured at all. This feedback is similar to what happens in a pacemaker: if the system drifts too far from the desired state, whether that’s a steady heartbeat or a superposition of ones and zeros, you can nudge it back towards where it should be.”

Pretty cool, eh? So what does this mean to us watching TV at home?

This demonstration shows we are almost there, in terms of being able to implement quantum error controls,” Vijay (lead scientist on this University of California Berkeley project) says. Such controls could be used to prolong the superpositions of qubits in quantum computing, he says, by automatically nudging qubits that were about to collapse. The result is not perfect, points out Howard Wiseman of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, in an article accompanying the team’s paper. “But compared with the no-feedback result of complete unpredictability within several microseconds, the observed stabilization of the qubit’s cycling is a big step forward in the feedback control of an individual qubit.”

So with some time and effort, the notion of mass-produced quantum computers is becoming more and more a reality.

And just what is a quantum computer?

The computers we use utilize bits or bytes; a quantum computer would utilize qubits , and thus the processing power potential of a quantum computer would be tremendously more than a regular computer using a classic processor interface.  Kind of like taking your Great grandfather’s model T Ford and comparing it to, say a Bugatti Veyron: yeah, they’re both motorized vehicles using four wheels, but when you get behind the wheel, the difference is, well, bigger, faster and far more effective. Naturally, the applications are tremendous: wherever you have a computer processor now, it may very well be outdated by this new technology offering far superior processing speed and abilities.

In an earlier post, I spoke of Kurzweil’s notion of singularity: AI (Artificial Intelligence) becoming not only a reality, but also surpassing human intelligence by the year 2029.

We could be witnessing the very foundation of that singularity taking place,…

Click here to learn more about this development: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2012/10/quantum-measurements-leave-schr%C3%B6dingers-cat-alive.html