Quantum Computer Simulates Passage of Matter Through Wormhole
In November, a group of physicists used Google’s Sycamore quantum computer to simulate the passage of matter through a “wormhole,” a hypothetical shortcut through the fabric of space-time. The significance of this achievement for physics is a topic of debate, but the physicists involved believe that they have found a way to demonstrate the underlying connections between quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of gravity, which are normally seen as incompatible.
Quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of gravity are both dominant theories in their respective fields, with quantum theory explaining the behavior of extremely small particles such as atoms and subatomic particles, and Einstein’s theory describing the behavior of large objects such as stars and the universe. However, in order to fully understand the origins of the universe, it is necessary to reconcile these two theories, which seem to be incompatible. This is because during the Big Bang, the universe was extremely small, so we need to understand how these two theories, which are normally only applicable in different size ranges, can be united.
The difficulty in reconciling these two theories lies in the fact that they appear fundamentally incompatible. Einstein’s theory is based on certainty and provides precise predictions about the trajectory of objects through space, while quantum theory is based on uncertainty and describes only the probability of an atom following a particular path through space.
Despite the seemingly incompatible nature of quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of gravity, physicists have found a potential connection between the two.
In 1997, Professor Juan Maldacena at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study discovered that Einstein’s theory in three-dimensional space could be viewed as a holographic projection of quantum theory that exists on the two-dimensional boundary of the universe. However, this duality only works in a universe with a boundary, and our universe is expanding without one.
More recently, physicists have discovered a duality between a wormhole and certain calculations on a quantum computer. A quantum computer is a device that can perform certain tasks faster than a traditional computer by manipulating quantum bits, or qubits, which can represent both 0 and 1 simultaneously. In 2016, Professor Daniel Jafferis and Drs. Ping Gao and Aron Wall of Harvard University found a theoretical wormhole that is related to a specific computation on a quantum computer.
In 1935, Einstein published two papers that were not initially seen as particularly significant and seemed unrelated to each other. The first paper, co-authored with Nathan Rosen and known as ER, showed that Einstein’s theory of gravity allowed for the existence of wormholes. The second paper, co-authored with Rosen and Boris Podolsky and known as EPR, demonstrated that subatomic particles that are created together are connected by a “spooky action at a distance,” or entanglement, meaning that when one particle is disturbed, the other reacts instantly, even if it is located on the other side of the universe. In 2013, Maldacena and Professor Leonard Susskind of Stanford University proposed that ER = EPR, suggesting that subatomic particles can influence each other instantly because they are connected by a wormhole.
Recently, Jafferis and his colleagues used Google’s Sycamore quantum computer to perform a calculation that simulated the passage of matter through a wormhole. This was a technically impressive achievement because the Sycamore computer, located at Google Quantum AI in Santa Barbara, California, has limited capacity and a high error rate, being able to manipulate only 54 qubits. However, the team used a neural network to significantly reduce the number of steps in their calculation while still preserving its essential characteristics. The calculation produced the expected signal if it was perfectly mimicking the passage of matter through a wormhole. This was seen as a significant moment by team member Professor Maria Spiropulu, who had previously worked at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva.
The significance of this achievement for physics is a topic of debate. Some argue that it tells us little because the experiment relates to a universe that is not our own and is only a one-dimensional “toy model.” Others believe that experiments like this can help us understand the connections between quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of gravity and ultimately lead us to a theory of quantum gravity that could explain the origins of the universe.
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