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Further Writing by Swan Morrison

The Solution to Quantum Decoherence for Macro-Entangled Qubits

I followed Hal along a corridor within the research headquarters of IBM at the Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in New York State.

‘I’m really interested to learn how you’ve constructed your quantum computer, Hal,’ I said. ‘The methods we’ve used in Cambridge suffer badly from decoherence with multiple qubits.’

‘We initially had that problem too,’ Hal replied, ‘but then I stumbled upon a new method to maintain macro-entangled states, virtually indefinitely. The computer room is through here,’ he added, stopping at a door and pressing his thumb onto a biometric lock.

We entered a large laboratory.

I looked around the room in surprise. ‘This wasn’t what I was expecting, Hal. It resembles a laundromat,' I joked. 'All those rows of equipment look just like washing machines.’

‘That’s because they are washing machines,’ Hal confirmed in a serious tone.

‘I don’t get it,' I said.

‘Have you ever noticed what happens when you wash your socks in a washing machine?’ Hal asked.

‘I’ve never noticed anything unusual,’ I replied. ‘Of course, even if you load pairs very carefully, you never get an even number of socks out.’

‘That's exactly the point,' Hal emphasised. 'Have you ever wondered why you always have a sock left over?’

‘I’ve always assumed that I miscounted.’

‘Every time?’

‘Now you come to mention it, that is a bit strange,’ I conceeded.

‘Have you also noticed what happens when your wife re-counts the socks?’ Hal continued with his line of reasoning.

‘The number usually turns out right,’ I replied. ‘But what’s that got to do with quantum computing?’

‘I got so sick of my wife saying I was a complete idiot who couldn’t even unload a washing machine, that I conducted some experiments,’ Hal responded. ‘Every time I emptied the machine, there was a sock missing, but when my wife re-counted them, there were usually the correct number of pairs.’

I thought about Hal’s words and then looked around the room at the banks of whirring front-loaders, the swirling of soapsuds visible through their transparent doors. At the far end of the laboratory I could see washing lines with socks hanging from them.

‘Re-establishment of the wave function!’ I exclaimed in amazement as the obvious conclusion dawned upon me.

‘Precisely,’ Hal replied. ‘When a man unloads a washing machine, some socks experience a re-establishment of their wave functions. They cease to exist as observable entities at a defined location and simply become a probability field that spans the entire universe.’

‘Thus they become invisible!’ I shouted with uninhibited excitement as I grasped the implications of this massive breakthrough in quantum field theory.

‘And then,’ continued Hal, ‘when a woman makes an observation in the same laundry basket, the wave function collapses once more, and the socks again becomes visible. Before she counts the socks, however, some are in a state of superposition that allows them to function as qubits. We call these Schrödinger's socks.’

I paused to consider. It was a good theory, I had to admit, but was it totally consistent with experimental observations?

‘Occasionally my wife counts the same odd number of socks as I do,’ I said cautiously, suspecting that I had detected a weakness in Hal’s theory.

‘The highest probability for the position of a measured sock is in the laundry basket,’ Hal explained. ‘However, there's a finite probability that a sock might materialise anywhere in the universe. That’s why your wife doesn’t always find them all.’

‘Of course!’ I said. ‘That would also explain why Neil Armstrong found a few odd socks on the moon.’

‘Exactly,’ agreed Hal as we walked onwards towards the far end of the laboratory where a woman was picking socks from a laundry basket.

‘I’ve found the white sock with red stripes that George couldn’t locate,’ I heard the woman say to a nearby colleague.

'White with red stripes,' repeated the colleague as she noted this outcome on a tablet. ‘That result confirms the prime factors for a five thousand digit number.’

'How long did the calculation take, Laura?' asked Hal as we reached the women.

‘About half an hour,' Laura replied, 'but we could probably have cracked it more quickly with a shorter wash cycle.’

Laura walked to the washing line onto which the other researcher had just pegged the red and white sock. She looked closely at the item. ‘This is the end for RSA encryption, Hal,’ she concluded, ‘and also, I don’t think this washing powder is giving us the whitest of whites.’