Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meet the Microtubule: the Putative Biological Quantum Computer with Error Correction

Might we enslave bacteria to produce a quantum computer?

Central to the entire discussion of hashes and cryptography is the question of whether or not a quantum computer is technologically feasible.

Companies such as DWave Systems would suggest that the answer is yes, although there is an ongoing debate as to whether their special-purpose device is rightly classified as a quantum computer.

As usual, it would appear that biology precedes technology: Dr. Stuart Hameroff et al, in the company of Oxford physicist and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, have discovered that microtubules, the internal information network within individual cells, appear to perform digital computations in a manner consistent with quantum entaglement, with classical inputs and outputs mediated by microtubule associated protein (MAP). Their hypothesis is rooted in an understanding of the superpositional tendencies of aromatic groups within tubulin, the constituent protein of microtubules, each of which appears to function as a single qubit. Moreover, the system appears to be configured so as to allow millions of neurons to participate in common entanglements involving all of their microtubules, lasting tens of milliseconds before collapsing into some sort of conscious realization. He presented his findings in this video.

If true, the implications are profound. For one thing, neural firing activity might merely amount to the exchange of classical inputs and outputs with the brain's "real" computers, the microtubules within the neurons, as opposed to the neurons themselves. He discusses some of them in this interview, and does well despite the confusion of the interviewer.

Granted, just because a given molecular system can behave as a quantum computer does not mean that it does. Either way, however, I think Dr. Hameroff is onto something here...