Moore’s Law was recently discussed at ARM’s TechCon annual event for partners within the microchip manufacturing industry. Coined by Gorden E Moore of Intel in 1965, the law posited the idea that processor speeds, or the overall processing power of computers, would double every two years. It’s a rule that has held true for the past half century, but now micro technology is finally reaching its limits. It’s no coincidence then that Microsoft are currently investing heavily in the new scientific field of quantum computing. As chips reach their physical limitations, and the demand for global data shows no sign of slowing, it seems fitting to consider the genre heritage and future of this computational frontier.
Many machines have been put forward by science fiction writers previously, and these in their own way have been influenced by the real world process of miniaturisation. (Consider the world sized computers in Forbidden Planet or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy versus the cranial processing of, say, Ex Machina.)
Interestingly, some fictional representations of circuit free computation have been closer to the quantum mark – despite its inherent in-determination. Cult Sci-Fi film of 1974, Zardoz, dramatised a crystalline central processor that used light for its calculations. Meanwhile, Ursula Le Guin’s intergalactic communication device, the Ansible, could easily be seen to exploit the “spooky action at a distance” of quantum entanglement. Greg Egan’s Quarantine (1992) has been considered to be one of the earliest depictions of the idea. But others have contested this by siting Isaac Azimov’s use of “molecular valves” throughout the “Multivac” computer in his 1956 story, The Last Question. As for what comes next, genre pick-up is still pretty light despite the stimulating subject matter. However, there is now a dedicated annual creative competition called Quantum Shorts.
If computing at an atomic level does become a reality, one of the first areas of research to be impacted will be artificial intelligence. As a result, if Robin Slone is to be believed, complex acts like writing a blog post will become second nature to the robots of tomorrow. So then if Drozbot, a blog about messages within machines, was continued by a machine… Oh how comic, oh how apt.