TNW’s best quantum computing and physics stories from 2021

2021 will be remembered for a lot of things, but when it’s all said and done we think it’ll eventually get called the year quantum computing finally came into focus.

That’s not to say useful quantum computers have actually arrived yet. They’re still somewhere between a couple years and a couple centuries away. Sorry for being so vague, but when you’re dealing with quantum physics there aren’t yet many guarantees.

This is because physics is an incredibly complex and challenging field of study. And the difficulty gets cranked up exponentially when you start adding “theoretical” and “quantum” to the research.

We’re talking about physics at the very edge of reason. Like, for example, imagining a quantum-powered artificial intelligence capable of taking on the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.

That might sound pretty wacky, but this story explains why it’s not quite as out there as you might think.

But let’s go even further. Let’s go past the edge of reason and into the realm of the speculative science. Earlier this year we wondered what would happen if physicists could actually prove that reality as we know it isn’t real.

Per that article:

Theoretically, if we could zoom in past the muons and leptons and keep going deeper and deeper, we could reach a point where all objects in the universe are indistinguishable from each other because, at the quantum level, everything that exists is just a sea of nearly-identical subparticulate entities.

This version of reality would render the concepts of “space” and “time” pointless. Time would only exist as a construct by which we give meaning to our own observations. And those observations would merely be the classical side-effects of existing in a quantum universe.

So, in the grand scheme of things, it’s possible that our reality is little more than a fleeting, purposeless arrangement of molecules. Everything that encompasses our entire universe may be nothing more than a brief hallucination caused by a quantum vibration.

Nothing makes you feel special like trying to conceive of yourself as a few seasoning particles in an infinite soup of gooey submolecules.

If having an existential quantum identity-crisis isn’t your thing, we also covered a lot of cool stuff that doesn’t require you to stop seeing yourself as an individual stack of materials.

Does anyone remember the time China said it had built a quantum computer a million times more powerful than Google’s? We don’t believe it. But that’s the claim the researchers made. You can read more about that here.

Oh, and that Google quantum system the Chinese researchers referenced? Yeah, it turns out it wasn’t exactly the massive upgrade over classical supercomputers it was chalked up to be either.

But, of course, we forgive Google for its marketing faux pas. And that’s because, hands down, the biggest story of the year for quantum computers was the time crystal breakthrough.

As we wrote at the time:

If Google‘s actually created time-crystals, it could accelerate the timeline for quantum computing breakthroughs from “maybe never” to “maybe within a few decades.”

At the far-fetched, super-optimistic end of things – we could see the creation of a working warp drive in our lifetimes. Imagine taking a trip to Mars or the edge of our solar system, and being back home on Earth in time to catch the evening news.

And, even on the conservative end with more realistic expectations, it’s not hard to imagine quantum computing-based chemical and drug discovery leading to universally-effective cancer treatments.

Talk about a “eureka moment!”

But there were even bigger things in the world of quantum physics than just advancing computer technology.

Scientists from the University of Sussex determined that black holes emanate a specific kind of “quantum pressure” that could lend some credence to “multiple universe” theories.

Basically, we can’t explain where the pressure comes from. Could this be blow back from “white holes” swallowing up energy and matter in a dark, doppelganger universe that exists parallel to our own? Nobody knows! You can read more here though.

Still there were even bigger philosophical questions in play over the course of 2021 when it came to interpreting physics research.

Are we incapable of finding evidence for God because we’re actually gods in our rights? That might sound like philosophy, but there are some pretty radical physics interpretations behind that assertion. 

And, if we are gods, can we stop time? Turns out, whether we’re just squishy mortal meatbags or actual deities, we actually can!

Alright. If none of those stories impress you, we’ve saved this one for last. If being a god, inventing time crystals, or even stopping time doesn’t float your boat, how about immortality? And not just regular boring immortality, but quantum immortality.

It’s probably not probable, and adding the word “quantum” to something doesn’t necessarily make it cooler, but anything’s possible in an infinite universe. Plus, the underlying theories involving massive-scale entanglement are incredible – read more here.

Seldom a day goes by where something incredible isn’t happening in the world of physics research. But that’s nothing compared to the magic we’ve yet to uncover out there in this fabulous universe we live in.

Luckily for you, Neural will be back in 2022 to help make sense of it all. Stick with us for the most compelling, wild, and deep reporting on the quantum world this side of the non-fiction realm.

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