Scientists Create Quantum Device That Can Predict More Than A Dozen Alternative Futures

The device is capable of examining all possible futures by placing them in a quantum superposition. metamorworks/Shutterstock

A team of researchers has successfully created a prototype quantum device capable of generating as many as 16 possible futures in one moment using a theory known as quantum superposition. Publishing their work in the journal Nature Communications, the team says that their computer is able to predict all possible futures in one moment, as well as many possible realities that extend into the future and grows with every minute.

It’s a total doozy, so let’s break it down.

“Basically, [quantum superposition] means that before you measure something, a particle like an electron has a possibility of being in all different possible states,” explained California State University, Long Beach physics graduate student Brandon Baxley, who was not involved in the study, to IFLScience. For example, before you measure the spin of an electron, it is assumed that it is in both states at the same time and upon measuring the spin the act of measuring it forces the particle to inhabit one particular state.

“It’s closely related to things like wave-particle duality, where particles can act as either a wave or a particle depending on the specific type of measurement you perform it on,” he said.

More simply, let’s use the example of a coin. When you flip it before checking the result, the coin is in both possible states – heads and tails. This is a relatively easy probability to predict over the long term but when the system is not as simple, the statistics become more and more complicated. Using quantum mechanics is a way that considers the multiple potential paths together, allowing researchers to work out the most likely scenarios.

Schrodinger’s cat is a theory used to explain quantum physics whereby an imaginary cat is placed inside a box with radioactive poison. Under quantum mechanics, the cat is considered both alive and dead until the box is opened and the cat can be observed. Designua/Shutterstock

The quantum device, however, is a bit more complex. It is capable of examining all possible futures by placing them in a quantum superposition much like Schrodinger’s cat, which was simultaneously dead and alive. Here, a photonic quantum information processor represents future outcomes of a decision process by using locations of photons (quantum particles of light). It then creates a quantum superposition of all possible trajectories that the system can evolve into, allowing the team to introduce and demonstrate the idea of comparing statistical futures.

"The functioning of this device is inspired by the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman," said study author Jayne Thompson in a statement. "When Feynman started studying quantum physics, he realized that when a particle travels from point A to point B, it does not necessarily follow a single path. Instead, it simultaneously transverses all possible paths connecting the points. Our work extends this phenomenon and harnesses it for modeling statistical futures."

Already, the machine has demonstrated one application: measuring how our bias toward a particular outcome in the present might impact the future.

"Our approach is to synthesize a quantum superposition of all possible futures for each bias," explained researcher Farzad Ghafari. "By interfering these superpositions with each other, we can completely avoid looking at each possible future individually. In fact, many [sic] current artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms learn by seeing how small changes in their behavior can lead to different future outcomes, so our techniques may enable quantum enhanced AIs to learn the effect of their actions much more efficiently."

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