Quantum is everywhere

Using AI to produce impossible tulips. Credit: Anna Ridler, “Myriad (Tulips)” (ⓒ 2019 Anna Ridler)

Quantum has moved beyond science and technology into our culture. This seemingly incomprehensible field might, in fact, be a straightforward way of understanding and explaining the world, with profound applicability across everything in society and our lives. An emerging “Quantum Society” is taking shape, synthesizing science, technology, work, art, artificial intelligence and cognition into a richer, more fluid understanding of life.

At the Purdue Quantum Science and Engineering Institute (PQSEI), we are deeply involved with the fundamentals of both quantum science and emerging quantum technologies. Additionally, in conversations with people who are not STEM-related, like writers and artists, I also have begun to see the quantum, affecting areas from the way we think to how we experience emotions.

In quantum, things are in “superposition” — meaning they can occupy more than one state at the same time with all the subtlety and complexity that implies. The fascinating quantum entanglement — what in quantum is called “spooky action at a distance” — makes things “connected” and interdependent, even when they are not in proximity to each other.

In our deterministic world, we tend to see the world in black and white , yes or no, heads or tails. This is also the basis for classical computing — a series of 0s and 1s, an on-state and an off-state. Embracing quantum means the world is not just one thing or the other.

In reality, we find resemblance to quantum superposition everywhere. When we experience something, make a decision, or feel an emotion, it can rarely be explained in a single, simple way; rather, it may exhibit seemingly contradictory elements at the same time. Take the “opposites” of happy and sad — they can exist superimposed, like crying when you’re happy. Or the simultaneity of grief of loss and joy of memory at the passing of a loved one.

Showcasing the interplay of art generated by AI along with the algorithm training sets. Ridler’s work reveals the human aspect behind the machine learning. Credit: Anna Ridler, “Mosaic Virus” (© 2018 Anna Ridler)

This “quantum cognition” is a way to use quantum approaches to describe life. Quantum entanglement can also be associated with cognition — for example, when separated people share feelings, a “sixth sense,” or that spooky action at a distance.

In computing, quantum processing holds the promise of being able to tackle currently incalculable volumes of data points to unravel the most complex phenomena. Artificial intelligence kicks in here through its ability to crunch data, understand patterns and predict things. In the future, marrying quantum and AI is going to usher in breathtaking advances in essentially everything: sensors, imaging, medicine, materials, energy, communications, space exploration, and on and on.

This evolution has enormous implications for skills, education and global competitiveness. In the future, big data will be everywhere, and quantum science and technology will be searching, sorting and sifting it for meaning. We need to prepare our workforce in quantum information science and technology. We need to tell our children about quantum ideas like superposition and entanglement and might need to teach them fundamental things about quantum phenomena before age 10. It’s like learning a different language — for children to be fluently bilingual, they need to be exposed to a second language by a certain age.

A quantum sensibility may even help us understand and shape society differently. We don’t live in a black-and-white world when it comes to emotions and relationships. Perhaps this can help us better navigate our entanglements and the ways we interact with one another and how we fashion a global community.

There is uncertainty and probability all around us; it’s part of our lives from infancy. A quantum perspective can help us better negotiate this constant ambiguity to become more accepting of life, and, hopefully, build a better self and world.

Alexandra Boltasseva

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Birck Nanotechnology Center

Purdue College of Engineering


Purdue Engineering

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