Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
It’s hard to believe it now, but just four short years ago articles on quantum computing were a bit of a dud when it came to catching the attention of mainstream news consumers.
Oh what a difference a few years can make. You can’t open the science section on Google or Apple News nowadays without seeing a near-equal split between space and quantum physics stories.
The world’s fallen in love with speculative science again thanks to quantum computing and artificial intelligence, and I couldn’t be happier.
I believe quantum computing has the ability to impact our species in a way that nothing short of the emergence of a physical God or the arrival of an advanced alien benefactor can.
I’m not the only person who feels this way. Many experts believe exploiting quantum mechanics will revolutionize our understanding of the universe and propel our species toward an ultimate understanding of everything.
But what does all that hyperbole mean? It’s easy to spit out optimistic platitudes. The real challenge, when it comes to speculative science, is predicting what this amazing quantum future will mean for the everyday person.
So, let’s put on our rose-tinted glasses and take a look at exactly what could happen if everything goes right and the dice land in our favor.
We’ve been studying diseases for thousands of years. In the modern era we’ve discovered vaccination, life-saving treatments, and cures for afflictions that have persisted for longer than recorded history.
But there’s plenty of work left yet. Diseases such as cancer remain uncured and horrifically prolific.
Quantum computers could change that. Creating a treatment or cure for something as complex as cancer is monumentally difficult.
The sheer number of chemical combinations in the world is enough to bog down even the most powerful supercomputers. But quantum computing can increase our ability to discover new drug and chemical interactions by factors.
With the potential power of a near-future quantum computing system, it’s perfectly feasible to imagine a world where disease and illness are things of the past.
Peace out, War
To the outsider looking in, humans might seem to love few things more than destroying one another. Quantum computing could help us a lot in that endeavor – if we’re going to discover massively destructive technologies such as cold fusion or planet-smashing death rays, it’ll likely be through the use of quantum computers.
Yet, it could also make war obsolete. There’s hope for a far future where people with incompatible ideological differences can warp away from Earth and carve out their own domain on a planet far, far away.
And we can always hope that solving humanity’s biggest problems in disease, hunger, and poverty could suddenly make us stop wanting to kill each other.
But this isn’t a philosophy article.
Quantum algorithms running on advanced computers could, conceivably, make personal deflector shields (like a combination between a force-field and a super-fast drone) a real thing. It’s possible we could develop passive defensive technologies that render kinetic attacks useless in most personal scenarios.
Imagine it: you’re walking down the street without a care in the world when an evil mugger leaps out from a dark alley. The mugger demands your money, you say no, and POW: they shoot you.
Only, your AI intercedes by placing itself between you and the bullet. Then it proceeds to alert the authorities on its own, send footage, and handle all the questioning while you just keep on walking without a care in the world.
At the military scale, there could easily come a point where quantum algorithms end up playing out a version of the movie War Games where, instead of reaching the conclusion that mutually assured destruction is inevitable, the machine comes to understand that a great defense beats a great offense.
We could reach a stalemate in our ability to inflict mass destruction on each other due to the difficulty in threading a missile through quantum-based defenses. And quantum communications, data teleportation, and other adjacent technologies could make cyberattacks nearly impossible as well.
Screw you Famine
We live on a planet where a handful of people have more money than they could spend in a thousand years, yet more than 3 million children die of starvation every year.
Quantum computers can do what billionaires, big tech, and the governments of the world refuse to: solve the hunger problem.
The same technology that would power drug discovery and cold fusion machines could potentially be used to discover nutritionally viable methods of food synthesis.
In essence, that would mean the invention of a machine that could produce food from ambient, available resources – like a 3D-printer that makes nutritionally viable food-paste out of air and mud or the replicator from Star Trek.
Don’t let the door hit you in your bony ass on the way out, Death
Ultimately, however, there should be only one true goal for the optimistic technologist: human immortality.
Solving disease, eradicating hunger, and mitigating our ability to harm each other would go a long way towards increasing our collective life-spans.
After all, imagine how many people smarter than Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking died of dysentery as a child or as a civilian casualty of one of the innumerable wars our species has engaged in since the dawn of time. Who knows how much knowledge we’ve left on the table over the years due to sheer bad luck.
But even more so than the fact that the preservation of individual lives would be a rising tide that lifts up our species, we can imagine a paradigm where quantum medical diagnostic tools give us the ability to find, isolate, and correct the flaws in our DNA.
There are those who believe aging can be slowed or even reversed based on theories involving the elasticity of certain cellular components (called telomeres). While there’s currently no clear path towards turning this insight into an actionable counterattack to the viciousness of aging, it’s obvious that we’d need quantum computers to run the algorithms that could one day optimize our biology through rejiggering our DNA and cellular makeup in real-time.
It’s impossible from our tiny point of view to know what the future holds. These technologies may never come to fruition or they could end up dominating the news cycle next year if lightning strikes the Google laboratories and a few more major eurekas happen in the field.
What’s important right now is that there’s hope. If a deity never emerges to show us the error of our ways or aliens never show up to solve all of our problems for us, we’ve still got a potential way out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
And besides, everyone has to believe in something right?
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