Heavier than air flight of the 21 century?
The very first post on this blog entitled “Combinatorics, Mathematics, Academics, Polemics, …” asked the question “Are mathematical debates possible?” We also had posts devoted to debates and to controversies.
A few days ago, the first post in a discussion between Aram Harrow, a brilliant computer scientists and quantum information researcher (and a decorated debator), and myself on quantum error correction was launched in Dick Lipton and Ken Regan’s big-league blog, Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP.
The central question we would like to discuss is:
Are universal quantum computers based on quantum error correction possible.
In preparation for the public posts, Ken, Aram, Dick, and me are having very fruitful and interesting email discussion on this and related matters, and also the post itself have already led to very interesting comments. Ken is doing marvels in editing what we write.
Dick opened the post by talking on perpetual motion machines which is ingenious because it challenges both sides of the discussion. Perpetual motion turned out to be impossible: will quantum computers enjoy the same fate? On the other hand (and closer to the issue at hand), an argument against quantum mechanics based on the impossibility of perpetual motion by no other than Einstein turned out to be false, are skeptical ideas to quantum computers just as bogus? (The answer could be yes to both questions.) Some people claimed that heavier-than-air flight might is a better analogy. Sure, perhaps it is better.
But, of course, analogies with many human endeavors can be made, and for these endeavors, some went one way, and some went the other way, and for some we don’t know.
Although this event is declared as a debate, I would like to think about it as a discussion. In the time scale of such a discussion what we can hope for is to better understand each other positions, and, not less important, to better understand our own positions. (Maybe I will comment here about some meta aspects of this developing discussion/debate.)
A real debate
A real emerging debate is if we (scientists) should boycott Elsevier. I tend to be against such an action, and especially against including refereeing papers for journals published by Elsevier as part of the boycott. I liked, generally speaking, Gowers’s critical post on Elsevier, but the winds of war and associated rhetoric are not to my liking. The universities are quite powerful, and they deal, negotiate and struggle with scientific publishers, and other similar bodies, on a regular basis. I tend to think that the community of scientists should not be part of such struggles and that such involvement will harm the community and science. This is a real debate! But it looks almost over. Many scientists joined the boycott and not many opposing opinions were made. It looks that we will have a little war and see some action. Exciting, as ever.