Is a quantum computer able to simulate an artificial universe like The Matrix or is that technology not advanced enough?


closed as primarily opinion-based by L.Dutch, Youstay Igo, Vylix, SRM, Vincent Sep 16 '17 at 22:37

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    $\begingroup$ Firstly know that quantum computers aren't magical objects that enable us to do anything through sole virtue of them being apparently very fast and optimized. As in there's more to creating a simulation than aquiring raw processing power. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Sep 16 '17 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Given that a truly quantum computer is yet to come, I don't see how this question cannot be opinion based. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 16 '17 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ It's like asking whether magic is able to make people fly or not. We don't even know what is the requirements to make a simulation like Matrix, and we don't know what quantum computer is capable of. Except that you define the capability of your quantum computer and requirement of the Matrix (like, my quantum computer can do 1 giga calculation per second and Matrix need 10 tera), we can only guess. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Sep 16 '17 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ What do you consider to be the difference between a quantum computer simulating the universe and the universe operating according to quantum principles, as science currently believes it does? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 16 '17 at 21:12

Maybe. But that's the same maybe as if you would have asked "Is a non-quantum computer able to simulate an artificial universe like The Matrix".

As of now, it's unclear in which areas quantum computers will be able to significantly outperform non-quantum computers. Factorization is currently the only operation we know quantum computers can outperform what we currently can do non-quantum computers. And that's only in the theoretical sense -- the record for quantum computer is factoring 21 = 7 x 3 "with a high degree of confidence". And it took a significant time to do this factorization.

For anything other than integer factorization, we don't have quantum algorithms which are significant faster than non-quantum algorithms.

So, the answer to "can we in the future simulate a universe with quantum computers" can be any of:

  • No, just like we cannot with non-quantum computers.
  • Yes, just like we can with non-quantum computers.
  • Yes, and we never be able to do this with non-quantum computers.

The latter will be the most interesting answer. But as I said, we currently just don't know.

Of course, we can simulate much simpler universes, and we don't need quantum computers for that. Conway's Game of Life is arguably a very simple universe, which we can simulate with non-quantum computers (we can even do this pen and paper).

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, with just a little drop of wide-eyed speculation, we could assume (for Science Fiction purposes, at least) that quantum computers can execute NP algorithms in polynomial time; that is, for quantum computers, P = NP. On the other hand, I would be extremely surprised if it turned out that there exists an NP algorithm for the simulation of the entire universe. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 16 '17 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ I joined this stackexchange so that I can comment on this post to say that the first half of it is simply wrong. Factoring is not the only interesting area for quantum computing. This answer does not mention the other one well known quantum algorithm (grovers algorithm). There exist further interesting and useful algorithms beyond these two relatively well known ones. It doesn't conflict with the ultimate conclusion, but the claims about factoring are factually incorrect. $\endgroup$ – Ella Rose Sep 16 '17 at 21:54

I love your question! Let's dive in...

There is one huge factor that I'm worried about w.r.t. simulations. Be your computer ever so quantum, it is still basically digital. The real universe is analog in many important ways -- degradation of field strengths over distance, curvature of space, and well, time. I am afraid that no digital simulation can perfectly calculate what would happen.

With enough processing power and good enough modeling, you could get something similar to the universe, but I bet that it would diverge more and more from how the real universe would act with every iteration. This could be a plot point, of course. And imagine if your simulated sophonts deduced from software errors that they were in a simulation, and rearranged local stars to spell out the words "PLEASE DON'T TURN US OFF!" ;D

  • $\begingroup$ Well, the question said "like the Matrix". Which means, it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough to fool most humans. $\endgroup$ – Abigail Sep 16 '17 at 20:54

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