Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Future of the Computer

by erics42, This post originally appeared at Function of a Rubber Duck.

Editor's Note: On the first of the year, many of us look towards the future. Erics42 provides us some thoughts on the future of the computer.

As I sit typing this most beautiful masterpiece of science bloggery I can’t help but think about the incredible work of machinery in front of me. Computer power has grown dramatically year after year. Each year more transistors are being squished onto the same sized chips and new electronic devices are substantially more powerful making your old electronics about as valuable as used toilet paper in comparison. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point.

In 1965 cofounder of INTEL Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors engineers would be able to fit on a chip would double every 18 months. His prediction has held out well and now it is most commonly known as Moore’s Law. What happens when transistors reach the size of individual atoms? At that point in order to make a more powerful computer we would have to enter the realm of weird and wacky realm of Quantum Mechanics. Scientists and engineers are already busy finding ways to create new quantum computers.
For a longtime the belief that constraints of the principles of quantum mechanics, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, imposed a limit on our ability to manipulate quantum mechanics for practical use. Recently their has been some buzz around Schrödinger’s Cat (the main character of Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment) which challenges this notion. Minute Physics does a cool and concise video about the famous thought experiment in the link below if you are interested.
Researchers at the University of California have now shown that it is possible to probe a delicate quantum state without destroying it*. In other words they have been able to take a peek at Schrodinger’s cat. Quantum mechanical properties such as superposition and entanglement in fact have not proved to be limits but instead resources. The strange principles of quantum mechanics are what offer such amazing prospects for the field of quantum computing.
Howard Aiken an American computer engineer stated in 1947 that the data processing needs of the US could be met with only six electronic digital computers. He didn’t predict the large numbers of data produced by scientific research, the rise of the personal computer, or the internet. The theme of the story is that our need for computing power increases as we continue to find new uses for electronics and further integrate them into our lives. As long as this pattern continues we will want need faster and more powerful computers which is where quantum computers will eventually come in.
Quantum computers are an exciting and promising frontier that will allow us to continue to create more powerful computers when classical computer reach their limit at the level of the atomic. The future of the computer is inside quantum mechanics.
Minute Physics Schrödinger’s Cat- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOYyCHGWJq4
About this contributor: Erics42 is a grade 10 student with a keen interest in physics and anything science. He watches Dr. Who- do you? His hobbies are creating strange edible food combinations and listening to all genres of interesting music.

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