Quick, to the Ivory Towers!

Particle physicists have always considered themselves the kings of physics. Murray Gell-Mann famously called solid state physics by the moniker “squalid state physics.” In the ivory towers where scientists picture themselves as selfless serfs in the service of knowledge, particle theorists have long occupied the attic. At the same time, there is another community of the mathematically inclined who claim that they do their work for the greater good of knowledge: programmers. In particular the open source spirit of programming, that good code is in some way eternal and should be shared and contributed to the greater cause, gives good coders an air of superiority not dissimilar to that found in particle theorist.
And when I think about these two fields, I begin to think that perhaps quantum computing is today’s version of the selfless king in search of knowledge. Not only are we learning about the fundamental ways in which quantum information and computation differs from classical information and computation, I think many of us in the quantum computing community also feel that our work will have some greater consequence once a quantum computer is eventually built. We are, therefore, I think a rather smug community not very dissimilar to particle theory or the ethic of the eternally beautiful algorithm. Whether this smugness will be our undoing, our triumph, or our own psychosis with which we will beat ourselves over the head is another question.

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