I just finished reading Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics. No, I’m not going to review it. What do you think I want the Quantum Pontiff to turn into a gigantic ball of flaming flamable flame wars? (The publisher actually was supposed to send me a copy and may still, but with my moving it may have missed me. But not to worry I went out and bought a copy myself because I couldn’t resist.)
Actually okay here is a two second review. The book is a fast, interesting read and I recommend it to anyone who is curious as to what all the fuss on certain websites is about without having to wade through a vast collection of comment tirades. Contrary to what you might expect, loop quantum gravity is not trumpted up as an alternative to string theory in the book, instead Smolin focuses on what he sees are the challenges string theory faces and then also about how he thinks the sociology of academia causes problems at a time when revolutionary new ideas are needed (which is what Smolin argues is required to get beyond our current status in the search for a quantum theory of gravity.) This later part of the book is interesting irrespective of your views or understanding of string theory and Smolin makes the case that the academic system has a lot of weaknesses when it comes time for truely new physics.
But okay, enought about the contents of the book that I’m not qualified to comment on. Lee Smolin actually mentions quantum computing multiple times in the book. Now first I have to take him to task because I am a nitpicking little son-of-a, and I just can’t help myself. Smolin writes
In 1994, Peter Shor of MIT, who was then a computer scientist at Bell Laboratories, found a remarkable result, which is that a large enough quantum computer would be able to break any code in existence.
Whoops. No, Shor’s algorithm can break the main public key cryptosystems those based on the difficulty of factoring and the discrete logriathm, but there are still public key cryptosystems which are so far resistent to both quantum and classical attacks (like those based on certain shortest vector in a lattice problems.) So quantum computers can’t break any code in existence. But, all is well, because in the next few sentences Smolin pays quantum computer some amazing props:
..Since then money has flooded into the field of quantum computation, as governments do not want to be the last to have their codes borken. This money has supported a new generation of young, very smart scientsits- physicists, computer scientists, and mathematicians. They have created a new field, a blending of physics and computer science, a significant part of which involves a reexcamination of the foundations of quantum mechanics. All of a sudden, quantum computer is hot, with lots of new ideas and results. Some of these results address the concerns about the foundations and many could have been discovered anytime since the 1930s. Here is a clear example of how the suppresion of a field by academic politics can hold up progress for decades
See he called quantum computer people “young” and “very smart!” That’s like being called “cool” in physics language! Now if only quantum computing could follow string theory’s example and populate physics departments across the country. Perhaps those in control of U.S. physics deparments who have hired a number of quantum computing theorists countable on fingers over the last few years have secretely been doing us all a big favor by keeping us from becoming overhyped and overpopulated. Or at least overpopulated.