Consider the following example of an expert trying to predict the future of a technology:
“Man will not fly for 50 years” Wilbur Wright, 1901.
(Ref. here. Some people embellish this quote by replacing “50 years” by “a thousand years”. The quote apparently comes from Wilbur’s diary and was uttered shortly after some particularly disappointing glider experiments. Wilbur was of course aware that man had already succeeded in getting airborne by means of gliders and balloons. He was referring to practical, long-distance human flight—controlled, engine-powered, sustained and heavier-than-air.)
What happened thereafter is well known:
- Dec. 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills (near Kitty-Hawk, North Carolina)- Wilbur and Orville Wright flew a motor-powered aircraft, flying several hundred feet in about a minute.
- Oct. 5, 1904, at Huffman Prairie (near Dayton, Ohio)- Wilbur flew 24.5 miles, in a circular pattern, in 38 minutes and 3 seconds, ending with a safe landing when the fuel ran out.
So much for trying to predict the future of a technology.
Something else that one cannot help but notice from this example is that progress in a logical, timely technology (for example, aviation and quantum computing) can sometimes occur at a breakneck pace. That was already true at the end of the Victorian era, 1903. Today, with tools like PCs, the Internet and ArXiv, which allow us to assemble, discuss, share and disseminate research information so quickly and easily, that pace is much quicker.
During the past month, I’ve been camping out in my office, working diligently away on a computer program called Quibbs. And now, Quibbs is finally ready for its first release. You can get the Quibbs Java applet and/or its source code here. I’ve also written an Arxiv paper describing Quibbsie:
Quibbs, a Code Generator for Quantum Gibbs Sampling
by R.R. Tucci, ArXiv:1004.2205
Who knows? Maybe Quibbs will turn out to be as important to quantum computer programming history as the Wright Brothers’ “Flyer” (1903) was to aviation history. On the other hand, maybe Quibbs will turn out to be the equivalent of “L’Albatros artificiel” (1868), a canvas-winged contraption, with oars for flapping the wings manually, perched atop a carriage that rolled on stagecoach wheels and was pulled by a horse at a beach. (Looked good though.)
For my next dog trick (did I mention that I love chasing squirrels?), I am trying to convince someone with access to an IBM Blue-Gene to collaborate with me, or to just grant me some Big-Iron time. The goal would be to run scaling tests to compare simulated quantum Gibbs sampling, to the more dowdy and antiquated classical Gibbs sampling. Imagine a titanic battle, a death match between Quibbs and WinBugs, between quantum and classical computing, between the new and the old, between the future and the past.
For a funny take on the early history of aviation, check out the movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
Wikipedia’s article on Aviation History is good too.
Ahh, and may I add, the Wikipedia article on the Wright Brothers is RIVETING. I highly recommend it. The website Wright Again is excellent too. Some interesting facts culled from those references: In 1901, Wilbur gave a “lantern slide show” to the Western Society of Engineers. The Wright Flyer 1 cost less than a thousand dollars, in contrast to more than $50,000 in government funds given to Harvard educated, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Langley for his man-carrying Great Aerodrome, which failed ignominiously, plunging twice into the Potomac river “like a handful of mortar”. The Wright brothers had only a high-school education. They were neither wealthy nor government-funded (unlike other researchers such as Ader, Maxim, Langley and Santos-Dumont). At first, French newspapers were deeply skeptically of the Wright brothers’ claims and called the Wright brothers “bluffeurs” Ouch. That’s got to hurt, especially in French. Orville Wright (1871–1948), who outlived his older brother Wilbur (1867–1912) by 36 years, lived to see the beginning of commercial, transatlantic and even supersonic aviation (but also lived to see airplanes used as weapons, during World Wars 1 and 2).