Scott Aaronson, a scientist at MIT who works mostly with theoretical quantum computers, issued a challenge to all of those deniers out there: prove that “scalable quantum computing is impossible in the physical world,” and Aaronson will personally pony up $100,000 to the winner.
Aaronson works with quantum computing theory all day; sounds like he’s sick of the constant chatter that quantum computing is not scalable, that the theory is purely theoretical. (Check out our interview with Seth Lloyd for a great beginner’s guide to quantum computing.) There are as many skeptics as believers out there, so Aaronson is asking them to step up and prove that quantum computers will never be able to do useful work.
“Useful work” is a key phrase in the contest; so-called “toy” quantum computers, using only a few electrons, are already proven to exist, so the challenge is more about larger, scalable quantum computers. Here’s Aaronson addressing the problem of disproving a theory, and responding to the accusation that his challenge is the equivalent of proving Bigfoot doesn’t exist:
Whether Bigfoot exists is a question about the contingent history of evolution on Earth. By contrast, whether scalable quantum computing is possible is a question about the laws of physics. It’s perfectly conceivable that future developments in physics would conflict with scalable quantum computing, in the same way that relativity conflicts with faster-than-light communication, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics conflicts with perpetuum mobiles. It’s for such a development in physics that I’m offering this prize.
It’s pretty unlikely it’ll ever happen; like Aaronson notes, if anybody actually managed to prove this, the world would hear about it and his $100,000 would end up supplementing some Nobel money or something. Still though, we like the gumption of offering cash money to your harshest critics.