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March 31, 2011 By Joseph P. Farrell

Here's a fun one for all you computer geeks out there:

20 Petaflops

Well, if you've been following the development of computer calculating ability, this is...well, as Art Bell used to say, "gimungous", and of course, this latest "electronic brain" will be replaced in world-record calculating ability by another, and yet another... It was all a process that began in World War Two, with the calculating devices of British engineer Turing, and his German counterpart, Hans Zuse, inventors of the first recognizably modern computers (though we might mention Babbage and his "difference engine" in the nineteenth century as well). The race for bigger and better calculating machine began, in earnest, with Eniac after the war and it has been proceeding non-stop since then.

What interests me here is the need for such a conputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. One can speculate on all sorts of reasons for the need for such computational power at a premier national defense laboratory and I imagine that one person's speculation would be as good as another's here. But it raises questions about the next level of computing advance: quantum computing. When that nutshell - when, not if - is ever finally cracked, it will lead inevitably to a different architecture for computers, and then the game will really be afoot.

Imagine, right now, you and I have more computing power on our desks than all of NASA had during the Apollo program, that the DOD had during the Vietnam war, that the Atomic Energy Commission had during the heady and dangerous days of H-bomb atmospheric testing in the 1950s. That's not only a lot of computational power, it's a measure of how far we've come in so short a time. Quantum computing opens the possibility of something else. By using the various states of particles as a component of an architecture of information storage, retrieval, and processing, there are some disturbing possibilities that open up, for as many physicists have begun to point out, there appear to be direct links between quantum physics and consciousness itself. In a nutshell, quantum computing may open that door not only to artificial intelligence, but to the ability of that intelligence to interface - quite literally - with the physical medium itself in a way now only being written and dreamed about in obscure literature on "quantum consciousness."

In short, we are in my opinion, on the cusp of a brave new world, to borrow a phrase, on the cusp of a whole new civilization, so....brace yourselves.

See you on the flip side.