Scott Aaronson: Quantum Computing | Lex Fridman Podcast #72 | Summary and Q&A

February 17, 2020
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Scott Aaronson: Quantum Computing | Lex Fridman Podcast #72


Quantum computing seeks to utilize the principles of quantum mechanics to perform computations faster than classical computers, with quantum supremacy marking the point when a quantum computer can solve a specific problem faster than any known classical algorithm.

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Key Insights

  • 🏑 Quantum computing is an interdisciplinary field intersecting computer science, physics, engineering, math, and philosophy.
  • 👨‍💻 Achieving quantum supremacy requires overcoming engineering challenges, theoretical breakthroughs, and advancements in error correction codes.
  • 💋 Quantum supremacy does not imply the immediate usefulness of quantum computers but marks a milestone in the field's progress.
  • 🏛️ The goal is to build reliable and scalable quantum computers capable of solving complex problems that are infeasible for classical computers.


the following is a conversation with Scott Aaronson a professor UT Austin director of its quantum information center and previously a professor at MIT his research interest center around the capabilities and limits of quantum computers and computational complexity theory more generally he is an excellent writer and one of my favorite communicators ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is quantum supremacy?

Quantum supremacy is the point at which a quantum computer can solve a particular problem faster than any known classical algorithm.

Q: What is the significance of achieving quantum supremacy?

It refutes skeptics who argued that a quantum computer could never outperform a classical computer. It also demonstrates the potential capabilities of quantum computing.

Q: Is there a relationship between quantum computing and error correction?

While quantum supremacy does not require error correction, it serves as a crucial element for building reliable and scalable quantum computers.

Q: What recent development has been made in the field of quantum supremacy?

Google recently announced their demonstration of quantum supremacy through a specific computation performed on a quantum computer with a certain number of qubits.


In this conversation with Scott Aaronson, a professor at UT Austin and a renowned quantum computing expert, the host explores the intersection of philosophy and computer science. They discuss the importance of philosophy in technical disciplines, the role of philosophers versus computer scientists in pondering philosophical questions, and the concept of Q Prime, which involves replacing unanswerable philosophical riddles with scientific or mathematical sub-questions. The conversation then transitions to quantum computing, with a discussion on the basics of quantum mechanics, the idea of quantum information, and the challenges of implementing quantum computers.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why should computer scientists, mathematicians, and physicists care about philosophy?

Philosophy is concerned with the biggest questions one could ask, such as the existence of free will, the nature of consciousness, and our place in the universe. While philosophy may not provide concrete answers, it frames our understanding of these questions and motivates our curiosity. However, math and science offer tools to make progress and change our understanding of philosophical questions.

Q: Why do computer scientists seem to avoid philosophical questions in technical discourse?

Computer scientists are often focused on more practical and answerable questions in their daily work, and philosophy can seem too ambiguous or unanswerable. Additionally, scientists may not have the time to dedicate to philosophical questions due to other pressing research priorities.

Q: Is there a difference between how computer scientists and philosophers ponder philosophical questions?

While it depends on the individual, philosophers tend to be more precise with language and interrogate word choices extensively. Computer scientists, on the other hand, may relate philosophical questions to recent research or their own work. Both approaches have their merits, with philosophy offering a deeper exploration of fundamental questions and science providing concrete answers and insights.

Q: How can unanswerable philosophical questions be replaced with scientific or mathematical sub-questions?

The concept of Q Prime involves reframing unanswerable philosophical riddles as sub-questions that can be addressed using scientific or mathematical tools. This approach allows for progress and a better understanding of the philosophical questions by focusing on specific aspects or elements that can be studied.

Q: Can you provide examples of Q Prime questions in the field of quantum computing?

Alan Turing's question "Can machines think?" was replaced with the question "Could you program a computer to pass the Turing test?". Similarly, Godel reframed questions about the limits of mathematical reasoning into whether specific statements could be proven within formal systems. In the context of free will, instead of asking if free will is real, one could ask about the in-principle predictability of a person's behavior based on the laws of physics.

Q: What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing is a new type of computation that utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics describes the world using amplitudes, which are numbers that represent possibilities, unlike classical probabilities. A quantum computer uses quantum bits or qubits, which can be in a superposition of 0 and 1 states, to perform computations in ways that can be faster than classical computers.

Q: Where is information contained in quantum computing?

Information is the core of quantum computing. The basic unit of quantum information is the qubit, which can exist in superpositions of 0 and 1 states. The manipulation and behavior of qubits form the foundation of quantum information.

Q: Does the physical design of a qubit interfere with the programming and logic of a quantum computer?

Currently, physical design and implementation can interfere with programming in quantum computers due to noise and limitations in qubit quality. However, the goal is to eventually develop error-corrected quantum computers where the logic becomes decoupled from the hardware, allowing for better programming and manipulation.

Q: What are the challenges in implementing quantum computers?

The main challenge in implementing large-scale quantum computers is decoherence, which refers to unwanted interaction between qubits and the external environment. Decoherence causes qubits to lose their coherence and behave more like classical bits. Overcoming decoherence and perfecting qubits are key challenges in quantum computing.

Q: Is noise the main problem in quantum computing?

Yes, noise and decoherence are significant challenges in quantum computing. Noise refers to undesired disturbances or imperfections in a quantum system that can cause errors. Decoherence, on the other hand, involves the unwanted interaction between qubits and the environment, leading to loss of coherence and disruption of quantum behavior.


In this conversation, Scott Aaronson and the host explore the relationship between computer science, philosophy, and quantum computing. They emphasize the importance of philosophy in addressing fundamental questions, the role of scientific and mathematical sub-questions (Q Prime) in advancing our understanding, and the challenges in implementing quantum computers. The conversation highlights the potential for quantum computing to revolutionize computation and explores the need for error-corrected quantum computers to overcome current limitations.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Quantum computing harnesses the principles of quantum mechanics to perform computations more efficiently than traditional computers.

  • Quantum supremacy refers to the point at which a quantum computer can solve a specific problem faster than any known classical algorithm.

  • Achieving quantum supremacy requires a quantum computer that is faster, has better scaling behavior, and provides speed-ups that can only be explained by the use of quantum mechanics.

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