The nature of digital – or digital nature?

I was waiting for the train once several years ago when I used to commute into Boston, and was chatting with one of my fellow commuters who worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  So, he was (is) a generally smart sort of guy whose expertise ran toward the technical end of things (i.e. he was more an engineer than astronomer).  Apparently he never realized  – mostly because he simply had never thought about it – that all the stars you can see in the sky are in our own Milky Way galaxy, i.e. of the literally billions of galaxies in the universe, all those millions of stars we admire at night are all contained in a single one, since the others are too far for us to make out individual stars without the help of telescopes (in fact, Edwin Hubble was the first to really “discover” galaxies – i.e. determine that they weren’t nebulae – only in the late 1920s).

Have you ever had a moment like that?  One in which you realized you had learned something new and almost obvious simply because you’d never thought about it before?  I mean, when one thinks about it – at least if one knows a bit about astronomy as this guy did – it certainly seems obvious.

Well, here’s another such fact that might lead to a similar moment: quantum computers are inherently digital because, by its very nature, quantum mechanics is discrete and not continuous.  There will never be an analog quantum computer.  There may be an analog interface, perhaps (although even that is questionable), but never an analog core.  It seems obvious now that I said it out loud, but how many of you were caught off guard just like my fellow commuter simply because you’d never thought about it before? 

And, if you think there are no classical analog computers, you’d be mistaken.


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