The Public Perception of Quantum Computing

Discover how the public views the complex idea of quantum computing.
Zuber Lawler

As articles appearing on this website have frequently discussed, quantum computing is complicated technology, requiring substantial development effort by some of the world’s most gifted scientists.

Quantum computing promises to provide substantial advances in high-profile fields, such as pharmaceuticals and data protection. Although the efforts to develop these and other applications, and the benefits derived from quantum computing based applications, essentially remain in the future, there is tremendous current buzz in the scientific and investment communities about quantum computing applications. Not surprisingly, that buzz has found its way to the general public and into popular culture. Given their limited scientific knowledge, what is the public to think about this complicated technology and what they hear about quantum computing?

The best answer may be the public is now likely to view quantum computing as the stuff of science fiction. Perhaps it belongs is some new Jules Verne novel – like Journey to the Center of the Subatomic Particle or 20,000 Qubits Under the Screen.

There is a long tradition of incorporating the potential impact of future technology into fiction – and that fiction does not always miss the mark.

Indeed, reality can often surpass such fiction as technology develops. For example, Dick Tracy fought crime with the aid of his futuristic two-way radio watch. The functionality of his “sophisticated” watch pales in comparison to the common Apple Watch of today. Similarly, the Jetsons had a video phone (which caused Jane to confront the problem of answering the phone when she felt she was not sufficiently presentable to be seen by the caller). FaceTime of today provides that functionality, and much more, in the palm of your hand (although it is still warranted to pay attention to one’s appearance and what is in the background when making or answering a FaceTime call).

Quantum technology and quantum computing has crept its way into popular culture. It is included in numerous movies, such as Tenet and Interstellar, where quantum technology permits the characters to engage in time travel, and Transcendence, where a character’s mind is uploaded into a quantum computer before the character dies. It is the subject of the play Copenhagen, which succeeded, notwithstanding that it baffled most of the audience about quantum physics. In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer has a quantum phone that he attempts to modify so the government cannot access his quantum email. Indeed, quantum computers pass what seems to be the current test for relevance by being the subject of a rap video, aptly called Qubits.

Quantum computing is also finding its way into real applications in popular culture.

For example, video games have been developed with the aid of quantum computing, and three-dimensional backgrounds for video games have been generated using quantum computing. Quantum computing applications in popular culture will surely increase in the future, likely in ways we cannot now imagine.

There is great interest in developing quantum computing for valuable commercial applications that cannot be achieved using conventional computing. At the same time, the hype about quantum computing has reached the general public, spurring imaginative thinking about how quantum computing may impact life in the future. Much of that thinking will miss the mark, but other ideas – no matter how far-fetched they may now seem – will ultimately prove to be prescient.

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