Shohini Ghose – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT
Let’s play a game.
Imagine that you are in Las Vegas, in a casino, and you decide to play a game on one of the casino’s computers, just like you might play solitaire or chess.
The computer can make moves in the game, just like a human player. This is a coin game. It starts with a coin showing heads, and the computer will play first. It can choose to flip the coin or not, but you don’t get to see the outcome.
Next, it’s your turn. You can also choose to flip the coin or not, and your move will not be revealed to your opponent, the computer.
Finally, the computer plays again, and can flip the coin or not, and after these three rounds, the coin is revealed, and if it is heads, the computer wins, if it’s tails, you win. So it’s a pretty simple game, and if everybody plays honestly, and the coin is fair, then you have a 50% chance of winning this game.
And to confirm that, I asked my students to play this game on our computers, and after many, many tries, their winning rate ended up being 50%, or close to 50%, as expected. Sounds like a boring game, right?
But what if you could play this game on a quantum computer?
Now, Las Vegas casinos do not have quantum computers, as far as I know, but IBM has built a working quantum computer. Here it is.
But what is a quantum computer?
Well, quantum physics describes the behavior of atoms and fundamental particles, like electrons and photons. So a quantum computer operates by controlling the behavior of these particles, but in a way that is completely different from our regular computers.
So a quantum computer is not just a more powerful version of our current computers, just like a light bulb is not a more powerful candle. You cannot build a light bulb by building better and better candles. A light bulb is a different technology, based on deeper scientific understanding.
Similarly, a quantum computer is a new kind of device, based on the science of quantum physics, and just like a light bulb transformed society, quantum computers have the potential to impact so many aspects of our lives, including our security needs, our health care and even the internet.
So companies all around the world are working to build these devices, and to see what the excitement is all about, let’s play our game on a quantum computer.
So I can log into IBM’s quantum computer from right here, which means I can play the game remotely, and so can you. To make this happen, you may remember getting an email ahead of time, from TED, asking you whether you would choose to flip the coin or not, if you played the game.
Well, actually, we asked you to choose between a circle or a square. You didn’t know it, but your choice of circle meant “flip the coin,” and your choice of square was “don’t flip.” We received 372 responses. Thank you.
That means we can play 372 games against the quantum computer using your choices. And it’s a pretty fast game to play, so I can show you the results right here. Unfortunately, you didn’t do very well.
The quantum computer won almost every game. It lost a few only because of operational errors in the computer.
So how did it achieve this amazing winning streak?
It seems like magic or cheating, but actually, it’s just quantum physics in action.
Here’s how it works. A regular computer simulates heads or tails of a coin as a bit, a zero or a one, or a current flipping on and off inside your computer chip.
A quantum computer is completely different. A quantum bit has a more fluid, nonbinary identity. It can exist in a superposition, or a combination of zero and one, with some probability of being zero and some probability of being one.