Friday, October 21, 2011

Apologies to xkcd

There’s a sci-fi staple that I haven’t seen or heard in a while, it feels to me, and that is the notion of quantum computer. In the shared experience we tolerate (re: reality), all quantum computing entails is the capacity for a computer to say “it could be both zero AND one”, instead of the current “it must be either zero OR one” mentality. Such a computer could take longer to process some things (it has 50% more possibilities to work with), but could solve other problems in much fewer steps.

In science-fiction, quantum computers get a bit cooler. They take their definition of “quantum” from the idea that all options people don’t choose in life exist in other realities. This kind of quantum computer observes those other realities and, taking a set of definitions from its user, can actually predict the outcome of a situation, and even recommend actions toward optimum benefit. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Give it the stock reports from the past week, it’ll tell you how to make 50,000% return in one afternoon of trading. Are pirates invading your home with the aim of abducting you and your cat to hold for ransom? If you have a quantumly-smart phone, you just describe what they look like and what order they burst in and your phone can tell you how to either sneak out and steal their car or go all Batman on their asses. In short, sci-fi Q.C.s could activate god mode in a person’s life.

I was thinking about this and a few side-thoughts came up. First was that this Q.C. would have one huge, critical blind spot, that is it would not be looking at its own reality. Presumably, the best reason our Q.C. could comprehensively observe these realities is because it exists outside of them. That being the case, this position would mean it could not examine any data that was not entered in by its user, itself vulnerable to bias, error, and its own limited perspective. This means that any output from the Q.C. is applicable only to a certain point for its user. For example, I could ask for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe, and could get one, but if the realities it searched just happened to be silicon-based instead of carbon, I would probably not appreciate the resulting cookies as much as the Q.C. thought I would. Not to mention I would need to get a government license to legally buy a few of the ingredients, but whatever.

Simply by observing the scope of the multiverse, we would remove ourselves from it. Much like the camera man and the mosh pit at a concert, we can either be in the thick of things ourselves, or we watch everyone else have fun. We can’t have both. Taking it to another level, this means that in another reality, one with its own Q.C. that can look into the whole of the multiverse, it would not be able to look into ours. Why? Because we already took ourselves out of the multiverse by having the audacity to want to look at other realities.

It is common knowledge that the most comprehensive opinion is the one that comes from outside. Such an opinion has risen in value over time because it has so often been proven correct, if occasionally unwelcome. It’s why doctors and judges are made to remove themselves from cases whose outcomes might affect them directly. But the power to control such weighty things as health or freedom comes at the cost of being able to stand with one’s own when they need connection the most. In the case of doctors or judges, very often there are others that can act objectively so those of us with friends in need don’t have to act, they can simply be there for each other. Does the same apply to factions of the multiverse? Can we add ourselves back in after grasping the power to watch and learn from others, trusting another universe to wield the same power in a way that won’t hurt anyone?

I normally see such trains of thought accompanied by comforting stick figures. I hope their lack didn’t make the above too painful.

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