The Quantum Pontiff

“Jumper” is a new movie about a man (okay, Hayden Christensen, aka Anakin Skywalker) who can teleport himself anywhere just by thinking about it. Quantum teleportation is a procedure where quantum information can be transported using entanglement and a few bits of classical communication. The distance between these two is, *ahem*, rather large. The New York Times today has an article about an event at MIT (that other institute of technology) which brought together the director of Jumper, star Hayden Christensen, and MIT professors Ed Farhi and Max Tegmark.

The article is fun, with the physicists explaining that the processes described in the movie will probably forever remain fiction. MIT students properly cheer with Ed Farhi tells the audience “You cannot get that thing over there faster than the speed of light.” Good to see that even at MIT, they know a little physics.

(Overbye’s description of quantum computing

Another use is in quantum computing, which would exploit the ability of quantum bits of information to have different values, both one and zero, at the same time to perform certain calculations, like factoring large prime numbers, much faster than ordinary computers.

fails to get me too upset since only a thinking person might be led from it down the road to the fallacy of exponential parallelism as the generator of quantum computing power.) Update: Holy crap, how did I miss the “factoring large prime numbers.” I’m as blind as a bat. Now I’m mad. Question: will the “paper of record” correct the record?

The real question that arises from the article, however, comes from this line

Mr. Betts said he had gotten excited after a Caltech physicist told him that teleportation was actually an accomplished fact in the quirky realm of quantum physics.

So okay, physicists from Caltech: who told Mr. Betts that teleportation was possible? Fess up.


  1. #1 sean
    February 5, 2008

    …and a thinking person who also knows what a prime number is might pretty quickly sniff that Overbye’s description is utter bollocks.

  2. #2 Domenic
    February 5, 2008

    The article was decent up until this line:

    By now the divide between the two cultures was getting as fuzzy and blurred as some quantum fog.

    That just pushed me over the edge…

  3. #3 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 5, 2008

    “So you see,” gesticulated Max Tegmark, clamping his hand over the Director’s mouth and twisting Hayden Christensen into a headlock, “right here in AT&T Reearch’s Online Encylopedia of Integer Sequences, which is the ultimate authority you know:

    A128818 Examples of integer-encoded mathematical structures in Max Tegmark’s ‘The Mathematical Universe’.

    n a(n)
    1 100
    2 105
    3 11120000
    4 113100120
    5 11220000110
    6 11220001110
    7 1132000012120201


    Abstract: “I explore physics implications of the External Reality Hypothesis (ERH) that there exists an external physical reality completely independent of us humans. I argue that with a sufficiently broad definition of mathematics, it implies the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH) that our physical world is an abstract mathematical structure. I discuss various implications of the ERH and MUH, ranging from standard physics topics like symmetries, irreducible representations, units, free parameters and initial conditions to broader issues like consciousness, parallel universes and Godel incompleteness. I hypothesize that only computable and decidable (in Godel’s sense) structures exist, which alleviates the cosmological measure problem and help explain why our physical laws appear so simple. I also comment on the intimate relation between mathematical structures, computations, simulations and physical systems.”

    Tegmark: “This is the ‘director’s cut’ version of the Sep 15 2007 New Scientist cover story. For references, see the ‘full strength’ version at arXiv:0704.0646. I advocate an extreme ‘shut-up-and-calculate’ approach to physics, where our external physical reality is assumed to be purely mathematical. This brief essay motivates this ‘it’s all just equations’ assumption and discusses its implications.”


    Max Tegmark, The Mathematical Universe, 5 Apr 2007, Table 1, p. 3.

    Max Tegmark, Shut up and calculate


    “Any mathematical structure can be encoded as a finite string of integers…”

    a(1) = 100 which encodes the empty set;

    a(2) = 105 which encodes the set of 5 elements;

    a(3) = 11120000 which encodes the trivial group C_1;

    a(4) = 113100120 which encodes the polygon P_3;

    a(5) = 11220000110 which encodes the group C_2;

    a(6) = 11220001110 which encodes Boolean algebra;

    a(7) = 1132000012120201 which encodes the group C_3.


    Adjacent sequences: A128815 A128816 A128817 this_sequence A128819 A128820 A128821

    Sequence in context: A094027 A092633 A108343 this_sequence A135603 A044866 A033828



    Jonathan Vos Post (jvospost2(AT) {but that’s not my secret preferred edress for those who actually know me}, Apr 10 2007, Oct 01 2007

  4. #4 Moshe
    February 5, 2008

    “factoring large prime numbers” doesn’t take a computer…

  5. #5 Patrick Hayden
    February 5, 2008

    So picky! Doesn’t Overbye get points for trying? He gets off one of my favorite science-writing lines in recent memory:

    “You cannot get that thing over there faster than the speed of light,” Dr. Farhi said, to cheers from the crowd.

  6. #6 Mark S.
    February 6, 2008

    I can factor large prime numbers in seconds!

  7. #7 Thomas
    February 6, 2008

    “factoring large prime numbers” is a classic mistake. That exact phrase get 2,230 hits on google, and with slight variations you’d get much more. Even if you know what you mean it is an easy slip of the tongue.

  8. #8 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 6, 2008

    Let me spare you what Gooogling took me over 20 minutes to wade through: endless debates in the blogosphere about whether Bill Gate$ said this, was said to have said it, or that it was an urban myth. Fact: he wrote it.

    “The obvious mathematical breakthrough would be development of an easy way to factor large prime numbers.”
    Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, Viking Penguin (1995)

    Now, can anyone supply the page number? As a paralegal, I learned the hard way that when a judge asks for “pinpoint cite”, the judge does not mean low resolution approximate citation…

    If only Micro$oft would buy Yahoo, and we’d get a search engine and content out of Redmond…

    Worst start-up name branding ever. “Small-weak” ==> Micro Soft

  9. #9 Bilal
    February 6, 2008

    I disagree with everyone’s comments. My gut says that in the distant future, when hopefully quantum computers will be reliable, we WILL be able to factor extremely, insanely monstrous prime numbers, the likes of which mankind has never seen before. Mankind, be prepared to be dazzled!

  10. #10 June
    February 12, 2008

    Was it Captain Kirk wo once tried to give a very large number by saying “the number 1 to the 100th power”?

  11. #11 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 13, 2008

    I’m glad you asked, June.

    Because I can top 1^100 quite easily with the scene from the classic film “Forbidden Planet” [1956] where, looking at the (analog) meters of the Krell power source, it is explained as: “Ten raised almost literally to an infinite power.”

    This is not to be confused with “Anna to the Infinite Power” which was a 1983 science fiction/thriller film about a teenager who learns that she was the product of a cloning experiment.

    Nor, for that matter, to be confused with these gems, cited in Ansible 247, February 2008, Copyright (c) Dave Langford, 2008 (and available online: google that title!):

    * Philosophy Dept. ‘If the shortest distance between point A and point B is a straight line, how do you go from point A to point B? This sort of debate could take a long time.’ (Colin Kapp, Transfinite Man aka The Dark Mind, 1964) [AR]

    * Worsening Odds Dept. ‘Outspace there was one chance in infinity squared that he would not die.’ But later: “‘I don’t give you one chance of survival in infinity raised to the infinite power,’ said Madden.'” (Ibid)

    As I explained online years ago:

    William Shakespeare (1564-1616): greatest English poet/playwright
    William Shakespeare
    “The Tempest” (1611, revised in First Folio 1623) is a superbly wrought, graceful play, with some of the Bard’s best lines.
    It was also so science-fictional as to have been rewritten into the modern film “Forbidden Planet” {hotlink to be done}. Here’s the key:
    * Prospero, Duke of Milan, Magician = Dr. Morbius (Mad Scientist)
    * He studies magic = He studies the alien technology
    * Magic Island = Altair-4 (Alien Planet)
    * Shipwreck = Forced landing of Spaceship
    * Beautiful daughter Miranda = Beautiful daughter Altaira
    * Brutish servant Caliban = Robbie the Robot
    * Ariel, Spirit of the Air = invisible “Monster of the Id”

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