I normally try and avoid getting into the vast topic of the hype problem in other subjects than string theory, but a couple things I’ve seen recently make it hard to resist. So, just this once…
Michio Kaku has a new book coming out next year, called Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything. The publisher’s summary tells us that quantum computing “may eventually unravel the deepest mysteries of science and solve some of humanity’s biggest problems, like global warming, world hunger, and incurable disease.” More concisely:
There is not a single problem humanity faces that couldn’t be addressed by quantum computing.
For a very different take, see The quantum computing bubble at the Financial Times, where Nikita Gourianov argues that there’s a speculative bubble going on in this field, and:
Well, when exactly the bubble will pop is difficult to say, but at some point the claims will be found out and the funding will dry up. I just hope that when the music stops and the bubble pops, the public will still listen to us physicists.
For a response to this, see a later article at the Financial Times: Separating quantum hype from quantum reality.
I think Gourianov makes an important point for physicists to keep in mind. Having this sort of hype blow up in physicist’s faces is not going to help with the credibility problems physics already has with the public due to decades of hype about non-existent breakthroughs in fundamental physics.
Attempts to build a nuclear fusion-based power reactor have been going on for 70 years or so. Decades ago it had already become a joke that success was always “30 years off”. One would think that because of this there would be overwhelming skepticism about new claims in this field, but there’s continual new hype all the time. The Guardian recently had a long article about The race to give nuclear fusion a role in the climate emergency. If you read the article carefully, there’s no evidence of any change on the “30 years off” front, with one expert describing magnetic confinement-based reactors as highly unlikely before “after 2050” and laser-based schemes “another 50 years to go, if at all.”
One project that has been getting a lot of press is SPARC, a collaboration between MIT and a private start-up. Their claim seems to be that they’ve got a workable reactor design all ready to go, last year finished developing the needed 20T high temperature superconductor-based magnet, and by 2025 will have a working reactor putting out more energy than goes in. Then:
On this path, how long would it take before fusion energy is on the grid?
MIT scientists and their collaborators believe that ARC — a fusion power plant that would produce electricity continuously — could be built and operating by early 2030.
This all seems highly implausible to me, but Bill Gates is putting money into the the project and I guess we’ll find out soon. For a skeptical take, see here.
About nuclear fusion, Michio Kaku tells us that:
Quantum computers could allow us to finally create nuclear fusion reactors that create clean, renewable energy without radioactive waste or threats of meltdown.
Two more items:
Getting back to the sort of claims about physics that don’t work out that I usually write about, the IAS website points to two recent items:
- Symmetry magazine interviews various physicists who appeared in the film Particle Fever (which I wrote about here).
- An electronic music producer interviews Edward Witten.
Update: Theoretical physicists are making a contribution to the energy crisis, see here.