Monday, October 15, 2018

Palm Springs 1988 Cartoon

At the 1998 NASA Palm Springs conference on quantum computing, I showed the above cartoon before starting my talk on Friday, the last day. The monologue went something like this:

During this conference I've noticed a number of speakers presenting slides illustrating the goal of quantum computing as some far off unreachable dream castle, or slides attempting to illustrate how some large government bureaucracy is involved in quantum computing. In this cartoon I've attempted to combine both of these goals in a single slide, and also give some of my background role in government sponsored quantum computing.
So here at the bottom are the government agencies, represented by different characters from the Wizard of Oz -- or in this case --- The Wizard of Odd. Here I am, as Toto the dog, representing Army Aviation & Missile Command (AMCOM). The idea here is that most of the time it's just annoying to have a small yapping dog in your lunch basket -- but occasionally he alerts you to something you otherwise might have missed. This was the case in 1994, when I attended the International Quantum Electronics Conference (IQEC) in Anaheim (Baltimore?) in the Spring, and the International Conference on Atomic Physics (ICAP) in Boulder in the Summer. At the IQEC I first learned of the British Telecom results, where they succeeded in transmitting a quantum cryptographic key over 70 km of fiber. I contacted Henry Everitt (alias "Dorothy") at the Army Research Office (ARO) about this exciting result, and shortly thereafter the ARO planned a workshop in Tucson for the Spring of 1995 on quantum cryptography. Then, later that Summer at ICAP, Ekert gave a talk on Shor's algorithm, which began the Great Diaspora for quantum computing. It turned out that Cirac, Kimble, Wineland, Zoller, and many others from the quantum optics community were at this meeting, and they all went off afterwards to their various labs to get to work. For my part, I again contacted Everitt at the ARO about this exciting new "bolt from the blue", and it was decided to add quantum computing to agenda of the Tucson meeting. So it was that the first Army sponsored workshop on quantum cryptography and quantum computing came about in the Spring of 1995 in Tucson, Arizona, with many of the key players in the room here today present at that meeting.

Of course the Dorothy character representing the ARO in the cartoon bears no resemblance to any ARO employee, living or dead, no matter what you hear about what he does in the privacy of his own home. The ARO would like a quantum computer, of course, to plan out its logistical strategy for the invasion of Kansas.
At the Tucson meeting I met for the first time Keith Miller from the National Security Agency (NSA) -- who bears no resemblance to the Scarecrow in the cartoon, singing, "If I only had a (quantum) brain...." Keith was the only workshop attendee who had no affiliation whatsoever printed on his name tag, identifying him immediately by logical deduction as an employee of the NSA. Based in part of the results of this meeting, the NSA and the ARO decided to pool their resources and expertise in the DoD support of quantum computing.
With the ARO and the NSA now in cahoots, Henry and Keith were quickly able to round up the prodigious resources available from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and bring them to bear towards funding research on quantum computing. DARPA is depicted here as the Tin Man since, as you know if you've ever asked them for money, they have no heart.
Things were moving along smoothly for a time in DoD Quantum Computing land, when suddenly I got wind of this here NASA Palm Springs conference. The first question I asked, as I'm sure many of you did, was "Why the heck is NASA working on quantum computing!?" However, since the conference was in such a nice place and in the hopes that NASA might have gigabucks of research money to throw around -- we all showed up here in droves to attend what has been a splendid workshop, thanks to the efforts of Colin Williams and his co-workers. Hence, NASA is depicted in the cartoon as the Cowardly Lion, who took a while to find his courage to get into the field -- but now has come in with a roar.
Turning to the academic top portion of the cartoon, we see here in the upper right that the unreachable goal is depicted as The Emerald City of Quantum Computation, which is ruled over by The Wizard of Odd, who was meant to have absolutely no resemblance to Charlie Bennett. Opposing the Wizard is the Wicked Witch of Pessimism, who again bears no resemblance at all to Peter Knight. The "H"on her hat stands for "Hermitian" or "Hamiltonian" or perhaps even "Hadamard" -- but certainly not "Haroche". In order to reach the goal of quantum computation, Dorothy and her loyal companions must fight off the Witch's Flying Monkeys of Decoherence, but to their rescue comes the Wizard's Marching Error-Correcting Munchkins. Will they win the battle and eventually reach the Emerald City? Only time (and lots of government money) will tell.

-- Jonathan P. Dowling

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