《经济学人》2020-9-26 From cloisters to the cloud 笔记

近年来,世界各国都在加大对量子计算技术的投入,量子技术得到了世界范围内长足的发展。近期,美欧各国包括中国都再次强化对量子计算的支持力度。9月中旬,美国众议院提出《量子网络基础设施法案》(The Quantum Network Infrastructure Act),要求联邦政府在2021-2025财年期间,向能源科学办公室拨款1亿美元,以支持构建美国量子网络基础设施。几乎与此同时,欧盟委员会对“欧洲高性能计算共同计划”进行了升级,拟投资80亿欧元,发展下一代超级计算技术——主要是百亿亿次超级计算机以及量子计算机的研制工作,以加强欧洲数字主权,维持欧洲在超级计算以及量子计算领域的主导地位。

据《科技日报》9月12日消息,我国企业自主研发的超导量子计算云平台正式上线,全球用户可以在线体验来自中国的量子计算服务。

本篇文章中,我们可以了解到量子计算自1981年以来,将进入第四十个年头,在全球范围内的地位,以及政府、企业对待量子计算技术的态度。

*本文仅供学习交流参考。文中作者观点不代表本人观点。


cloister n.(常为教堂、修院或寺院的)回廊;修院(或圣堂)禁地


第一段

It is hard to choose one moment as marking the birth of a technology. But by one common reckoning, quantum computing will be 40 next year. In 1981 Richard Feynman(理查德·费曼), an American physicist, spoke at a computing conference, observing that “Nature isn’t classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you’d better make it quantum mechanical, and by golly it’s a wonderful problem, because it doesn’t look so easy.”

quantum mechanical a.量子力学的

golly Exclamation.(表示惊奇的)天哪  by golly

这一段主要介绍量子计算技术的起源。明年(2021年)将是量子计算技术的第40年,它最早于1981年被理查德·费曼提及。他认为大自然并不是经典力学,如果想模拟自然,最好运用量子力学。

Richard Feynman



第二段

Entering middle age, quantum computing is at last becoming a commercial proposition. Until recently the consensus was that practical applications would have to wait for large, stable machines, probably at least a decade away. Not everyone agrees. (长难句)Venture capital is beginning to flow into companies built around quantum computers, as investors make a bold—possibly foolhardy—bet that even the limited, error-prone, unstable machines that make up the state-of-the-art today may prove commercially useful.

proposition n.提议,建议;任务;观点,主张;【数】命题

venture capital n.风险投资,风险资本

foolhardy a.莽撞的;有勇无谋的

state-of-the-art a.(技术上)最先进的

这一段开头的middle age并不是指历史上的中世纪,而是指quantum computing进入“中年”。量子计算成为一种商业命题,受到了投资者的青睐。风险资本开始流向以量子计算为核心的企业。社会的普遍共识是实际应用需要等待大的、稳定的机器问世,这至少要等十年。而风投不同意这个观点,他们下赌注说构成当代最先进科技的,即使是最有限的、易出错的、不稳定的机器也可能会是商业上的成功运用。


第三段

If those bets pay off, it would be good news, and not just for investors. Quantum computers can perform some sorts of mathematics far faster than any classical machine. Building them could open up entirely new vistas. They may, for instance, revolutionise chemistry. Most reactions are too complex for existing computers to simulate exactly, blunting researchers’ precision. Quantum machines could cut through the mathematical tangle, with applications in materials science, drugmaking, batteries and more. Their facility with optimisation problemswhich are likewise a struggle for non-quantum machines, could be a boon for logistics, finance and artificial intelligence.

optimisation problem n.【数】最优解问题,最优化问题

boon n.非常有用的东西;益处  

这一段在讲量子计算相对于传统算法的好处,可以提高行业生产流通的精确性。文中作者拿了化学来打比方,说量子计算可以使化学反应过程模拟更加精确。这里提到了optimisation problem是数学中的最优解问题。

文中最后一句话稍长,我们去掉修饰成分,得到Their facility could be a boon for logistics, finance and artificial intelligence就很好理解。再来理解修饰成分,即量子计算带有最优解的功能,而这种功能是那些“非量子”机器努力想做到的而却不具备的。


第四段

The field’s progress is interesting for another reason. Quantum computing offers a worked example of how complicated technologies develop in industrial societies. The chief lesson is to attend to every part of the process. The frenzy of innovation around classical computing, concentrated in Silicon Valley, has focused attention on the world of startups, venture capital and IPOs. But these are things that happen late in a technology’s development, when swift commercial returns are, if not certain, then at least plausible. As Mariana Mazzucato(马里亚纳·马祖卡托), an Italian-American economist, has argued, the biggest risks are taken earlier, when it is unclear whether a technology will work at all.

startup n.初创企业

IPO abbr. (initial public offering) 【商】(公司股票的)首次公开发行,上市

这一段讲量子计算的另一个有趣方面,即它展示了工业社会中复杂的技术是如何发展的。拿传统计算为例,传统计算是在发展后期(至少已经证明了它在技术上的可行性),其创新狂潮才开始把注意力放在初创公司、风险资本和IPO领域的。正如这位经济学家说的,当一种技术尚不确定是否有效之时,将会在早期承担较大风险。而前文已经提到,量子计算现在吸引大量的风险投资,其前期的巨大风险是需要被承担的。

以下段落都是围绕量子计算的风险承担与发展进行展开。注意关键点the chief lesson,后文第八段还有other lessons属于一个主题下的多个方面。

第五、六段

The state can be one such risk-taker. The first step in building a quantum computer was to conduct plenty of abstruse mathematics on university blackboards. Collectively, governments, including those of America, Britain, China and Germany, have thrown billions of dollars at funding quantum research.

(难句)Other early work was done in the sorts of big, boring companies in which no self-respecting disrupter would be seen dead. The first useful quantum algorithm was discovered in 1994 at Bell Labs(贝尔实验室), which began life as the research division of America’s telephone monopoly. Another early pioneer was IBM, which also has a buttoned-up reputation—but whose researchers have, over the years, earned six Nobel prizes. Today Google and Microsoft are playing a big role in developing quantum technologies.

abstruse a.深奥的,艰深的

research division n.研发部门

buttoned-up a.沉默寡言的,不外露的,保守的,内敛的

第五段中,作者说国家将充当早期风险投资与承担的角色。美英中德等多国都在这个领域投入了大量资金。

第六段的首句非常难懂,可以先看后文。在量子计算的先行者中,一个是贝尔实验室,另一个是IBM(International Business Machine),即美国国际商用机器公司。贝尔实验室最初是从美国电话垄断公司中的研发部门发展而来的,经过查阅资料,我们得知文中的America’s telephone monopoly是西方电子公司(Western Electric),后来被著名的美国电话电报公司(AT&T)于1925年收购,双方各对贝尔占有50%的股份。IBM历来有保守内敛的声誉,但它的研究者团队中出了六个诺贝尔奖得主。

Bell Labs


所以我们回看第六段的开头,disrupter原意是破坏者,颠覆者,可以引申为革新者。就是说早期的技术工作是在那种大的,无趣的公司中完成的,在这些公司中技术革新者是得到足够重视的。


第七段

The trick for such super-early-stage investors is to know when to stick with a risky prospect and when to call it quits. Good venture capitalists are ruthless about culling underperforming bets and focusing on those that seem to be paying off. Their proximity to markets makes such judgments easier. But governments—which are, after all, spending public money—should strive for the same outlook. If the state is to back technologies that are too risky for other investors, then a high rate of failure is both inevitable and desirable.

cull v.部分捕杀,宰杀(为防止动物种群量过多而杀掉其中一定数量)

上述这些早期的超级投资者知道面对高风险投资,什么时候要坚持什么时候要退出,在去粗存精上要毫不留情。这里cull原意是指宰杀,这里指对那些表现不好的项目的撤资。

但是对于花费公共财政的政府,应该追求同样的前景,对于那些对于其他投资商风险过高的技术,大力投资可能会面临更大的失败,但作者认为也是值得做的(desirable)


第八、九段

There are other lessons, too. Quantum computing has come as far as it has on the backs of thousands of mathematicians, experimental physicists and engineers. That is a reminder of the limits of “great man” theories of innovation, exemplified by the cult of Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple. The popular image of innovation as a “pipeline”, with a stream of individual technologies proceeding smoothly from ideas to products, is likewise too neat. Progress in quantum computing depends on progress in dozens of other fields, from lasers to cryogenics.

None of that is to deny the importance of the people who run the last few miles, taking nascent technologies and trying to spin out profitable businesses. But those who want to see more of that success should keep in mind that a great deal of less celebrated, less glamorous work must come first.

neat a.高明而简洁易行的;很棒的

cryogenics n.【物理】低温学

spin out 维持,拖延,拉长

文章的最后,作者告诫大家进行技术创新不是单靠一个人就能完成的,提出了“伟人创新”理论的局限性。技术创新像一个“输油管”汇集每个个体的技术成就。量子计算技术的发展需要依靠很多其他领域技术的进步,如低温学、激光技术等。这不是否认那些最后接过接力棒的人们的努力,他们运用新兴技术并试图维持可盈利的商业活动,但那些想要看到更多成功的人就应该记住必须先进行大量孤独、无聊的工作。

总之,作者观察工业社会量子计算发展需要两个方面,一个是国家、政府的投入和支持,对风险的承担,这是主要方面,另一个是需要各个行业、个体的技术进步与配合,需要多行业的共同投入。



 

 


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