Understanding “Spooky” Computers

Find out exactly what "spooky computing" means
Zuber Lawler

The term “spooky computing” frequently appears in scientific literature. This eerie sounding description has been used in the field of quantum computing for many years. But what exactly does it mean?

The term originates with Albert Einstein. It goes back to a 1935 paper, in which Einstein and two colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, attempted to discredit the then new theory of quantum mechanics. For Einstein and his colleagues, it was a seemingly impossible concept. The theory postulated that if there are two particles (A and B) that are related by a past quantum interaction, and if A’s momentum is measured, then at the same time B must have the opposite value. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance,” as this relationship would occur even if A and B were many light years apart.

Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen’s famous paper “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete?” illustrates the all-important phenomenon of entanglement.

Through entanglement, quantum particles are linked such that when one particle is altered, another particle is altered simultaneously. The concept may sound peculiar, but fast forward to the present day and quantum computing mirrors just what Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen described many years ago. In quantum computing, a quantum bit can both be a zero and a one at the same time. Although different from two particles located light years away from each other, this is another manifestation of the concept described in their paper.

Ironically, while Einstein and company were trying to show that quantum theory is flawed, their work showcased how quantum computing operates. The classic Einstein, Podolsky,and Rosen paper illustrates how quantum mechanics does not fit into theories of traditional physics, but does not show that quantum theory is flawed. Likewise, quantum computing operates in a way that is different from traditional computing, yet is nonetheless viable – and often superior. Using phenomena like the aforementioned entanglement, quantum computers can operate at a level that traditional computers cannot achieve. The shear power and speed of quantum computers allows many applications to operate at speeds that could only once have been dreamt about. Whether it is a pharmaceutical company trying to create a new medicine or a meteorologist creating models that more accurately forecast weather phenomena, quantum computing is exploding in its reach and will play an increasingly important role in society over the coming years.

The “spooky action at a distance” described by Einstein shows the relationship that exists within a quantum bit, which is what helps make quantum computing much more powerful than traditional computing. The fact that a quantum bit can be a zero and a one at the same time is an achievement in computing that can have a seismic impact on the world. And though the term has been used for years, there is ultimately nothing “spooky” about quantum computing and its tremendous power.

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