AUG 29, 2023
To build a better quantum computer, look into a black hole, says professor Brian Cox
OCT 24, 2022
It's hard for professor Brian Cox to hide his enthusiasm for black holes, and he didn't really try as he explained to The Register how progress in understanding the celestial phenomena contributes to the development of quantum computing.
"The study of black holes in the last few years has really transformed our view of what space and time are," Cox told The Register last week from Sydney, Australia where he had been hosting his live show, Horizons. "We've seen intimate links between understanding black holes – the way they behave and how information can escape from them – and quantum computing."
Cox said humans' understanding of black holes has completely transformed over the past decade, and brought with it a previously inconceivable window into a quantum theory of gravity and therefore also into how to build and operate quantum computers.
"It's remarkable that the problems and the challenges that we see and understand in the black hole information paradox, and things like quantum error correction codes – which is the way that we protect the memory of quantum computers against errors – that the crossover is intimate. It's almost a complete crossover," explained the physicist and former musician.
"You imagine that you want to see the quantum structure of space and time. What you would really like to do is cut out a piece of space, so you could see how it's connected to other pieces of space, right? Now, you can't do that, except that a black hole does it. So that's what a black hole is. So studying these things will give you an insight into the underlying structure of space."
This is one of the reasons Cox thinks projects like the Event Horizon Telescope – an array of eight ground-based radio telescopes around the world used to observe black holes – are so important. He is also a fan of the James Webb telescope, JPL's Mars sample-return mission, the Europa Clipper and the big, proposed missions for gravitational wave detectors in space.
He referred to current times as a "golden age" of space research.
"In a few years' time, it will be impossible to imagine astronomy without the James Webb Telescope in the same way it's impossible to imagine it without Hubble," said Cox.
The Webb is capable of looking at the formation of the first galaxies, and sensitive enough to explore the atmosphere of exoplanets.
"The James Webb is one of the first instruments, and certainly I think it'd be fair to say the most powerful instrument at the moment, in being able to probe those atmospheres and look for things like potentially bio signatures," said Cox.
Cox draws a distinction between microbes and complex life – microbes likely being much more in abundance in the universe than complex life.
"I think that maybe on average, there's kind of like one civilization per galaxy," said the physicist. "I think most people would agree. It's not many. Whereas there might be microbes all over the place."