Google Workshop on Quantum Biology: Welcome and Introduction

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 29.10.2010

I wanted to give a quick introduction in the sense that when I setup the workshop, one
question I heard a lot and that is, why should Google--why would Google be interested in
quantum biology? That is a valid question. And I will just answer it sort of very selfishly
from my own perspective. You might have seen the recent Bloomberg Businessweek article
that--where the reporter concluded that the largest artificial intelligence operation
in the country, meaning the most employees, is probably here at Google. And I think that
maybe true. If you look around, we have a beautiful work in translation, in voice recognition,
do image recognition. Of course, our core business of pooling from 10,000 of that page
as the most relevant ones as we will show to you, and sometimes just the one on a cell
phone and then placing an ad next to it that you might find useful and then click on. So
all these operations are, of course, based on artificial intelligence, message in the
[INDISTINCT] sense, the machine learning, graphical models and so on. Now, if you do
things like this, for example in my field, image recognition, then you realize that underlying
AI is a plethora of what mathematicians would call, formerly NP-hard problems. And then
if you look how we solve those, I will draw the one and only picture for this introduction.
So, many of these problems can be formulated as optimization problem. And solving of the
AI problem amounts to finding the lowest spot for such an object to function and if you
just look at industrial physics, top of the region and we could start with a ball somewhere
that would roll down. But of course, the problem we will have, this might get stuck inside
the [INDISTINCT]. Even if how [INDISTINCT] you're probably familiar with the message
of the simulation we're needing. If you give it a little bit of noise and then you push
this ball over, then you slowly reduce the noise as the temperature and then, eventually
you just carefully knock the ball by bringing it down there. However, quantum mechanics
offers a second different mechanism that's not available otherwise. For the recordings--sorry.
So this second mechanism is tunneling, so you can cut right through an energy barrier
and you have now a second way--a second pathway to reach this lowest point. So that is interesting.
And there's a resource that we can use. And to--the last talk today, my talk later in
the afternoon, I will make this notion more precise, how you can employ quantum annealing
to solve hard problems in AI better? So, this should also take away with the first argument
you often hear from very smart people, why the brain can--or sorry, before I say this,
once you realize, and in experiments we have found this, that you can gain an advantage
solving such problems, you wonder of course how the brain is pretty good in doing things
like face recognition, face detection, recognizing speech. Does the brain use similar tricks?
At this point, we don't know, but at least now there is a motivation, because what you
often hear as the first argument, why there shouldn't be quantum computing in the brain
is, "Yeah, the brain doesn't have to factorize large numbers, it doesn't have to calculate
as a coagulant plasma." We're not known to be good at these things, so there's really
no use for quantum computing in the brain. And actually, it was funny we had once here
as a guest, Moray Gammons, the Nobel Prize winner and he gave a talk about creativity.
And he had this very picture on the whiteboard and said, "You're creativity can really be
modeled mathematically as finding this lowest point." Then later, in the question and answer
session, somebody asked him, "Moray, what's your view on recent developments in quantum
computing?" And he said, "Just a few years ago, everybody was thinking, 'Quantum computers
would be great to have if all these ideas what to do with them, but they're impossible
to build.' And now, the view has changed to--now quantum computers can probably be build, but
we really don't know what to do with them because factorizing numbers or the few other
prominent problems are not all that interesting." And unfortunately, I was on the videoconference
from the other side, I couldn't--and the connection didn't work. I was waving, "Hey, hey, Moray,
your own--what you wanted to do, build something more creative, that very task can be done
better possibly by quantum computing." And of course, we have to be careful. At this
point, you may say, "But you have already technical systems that do things like face
recognition pretty well. Why do you want to move to--do you need to move to a quantum
computer?" It's true. We have made nice progress but that isn't to say we couldn't improve.
Plus, to train--just to give you an idea, to train a face detector, we keep 10,000 computer
cores busy for a week, roughly as a--order of magnitude. So that is a lot of joules that
you burn there; so there maybe also the hope to find some mechanisms to do this. I mean,
a human brain does it essentially on a spoon of sugar a day. And that's something eventually
you stop to appreciate if you have a hard time building your next--the next service
center. So--and one other thing that you probably don't have to be a prophet to see this coming
is that, as we try to build quantum computers, we learn of more and more ways and tricks
how to keep the quantum resources intact, so that the environmental interaction will
not destroy what may be needed coherence entanglement. So, as we learn more tricks from typological
quantum computing to the adiabatic quantum computing, to error correcting codes to--or
I just ran the other day into John Presker, he was talking about new works, doing--connecting
a qubit to an oscillator, which to be honest I didn't follow quite the details. But the
notion was to make this qubit inherently more robust against noise. And this is just one
other example of more and more tricks we will find. And as we build--develop these techniques,
we will develop a different appreciation for, "Oh, maybe a system like this, it may happen
in this hour," or we get a keener eye for biological systems to see whether maybe similar
mechanisms take place there. Moreover, we don't really know what is the minimum set
of quantum resources we need to do a quantum speedup. Now, Eric is sitting here, was always
a proponent of the notion of the early quantum computing. A little bit of entanglement here,
some coherence there. It doesn't necessarily have to be all qubits involved coherent and
entangled all the time to still see some advantage in systems like this. And of course, we should
not forget that even--let's say if the disappointing reside were to be that an engineered systems,
we just get a few percent improvement in highly evolved near equilibrium ecosystems evolution.
If it's worth it's salt, would very much bring out those few percent. So if you build a detector,
let's say a face detector, a car detector and it's a few percent better, if you translate
this in a biological setting, being a few percent better in detecting a predator or
a prey, this may be all it needs to--for evolution to rework such mechanisms, you know. But so
far, this is just setting the motivation, is it really there? And the other thing awe
have to turn our attention to, I think, what is a poster child of quantum biology at this
moment is the work on photosynthesis. And there between correct angles, correct [INDISTINCT],
and many others, amazing work has occurred to show at cryogenic and later at room temperature
that where we are now fairly sure, and you guys will talk about this in a much higher
precision, is that quantum coherent phenomena are involved to bring the high energy efficiency
of photosynthesis. And of course, is the importance of establishing just one system is of course
enormous. Because if--for one system in biology at normal room temperatures, we can show quantum
phenomena then it's of course not a leap of faith to say, "Okay, if biology has used it
once, it may have used it at many other places," you know. And accordingly, right now, we have
people looking into various directions. So the avian compass magnetoreception is a good
candidate. Luca Turin, also one of our speakers today, he pioneered the notions that olfaction,
a sense, will or may use quantum mechanisms into its advantage. Elizabeth will talk about
or look at quantum effects in DNA. And long--my sense is there will be a flood gate if the
initial steps prove out to be correct. Then there will be a flood gate of other systems
that we will study. And including interesting things like central nervous drugs, it has
always been my suspicion that some of these amazing effects brought about by certain drugs
will need--or to explain those, you will need to appear to quantum biological effects to
explain them better. And actually, I'm delighted that Luca will present a completely new material
today, talking about quantum pharmacology, if I may summarize it in this way. So, maybe
to do one more jump here. And that is, as soon as you put these words of quantum and
biology into one sentence, then people will say, "Ah, you're talking about microtubules
and consciousness, aren't you?" So, I guess, we owe it to Stewart sitting here and Penrose
to have sort of marketed it--oh no, this is--that's not the right word. So, they have brought
this connections that today when you say quantum biology, most people who are not really in
the field, next thing they will think is consciousness. And then people look at you, "Are you serious?"
You know, like, as in the sense of now you go into some--please.
>> Your regrets slowed down the field. >> I think the--I will have to say two things.
Actually, this is now that you asked one that I wanted to say at the very end. But one thing
we will see today--and that was also the impetus for holding this workshop--we will not solve,
I think, the consciousness question here today. But I think Stewart's general hunch that microtubules
are something special in the sense of not just the scaffolding for the cell, but they're
from a hardcore material science perspective, they have amazing properties that we are going
to see today. And Anirban will present results and a couple of [INDISTINCT]--there a couple
of jury who will talk about the properties of microtubules. So, I think this general
hunch to take a closer look at those amazing structures will prove out pretty--very much
to be--have been the right hunch in retrospect. But going back to the more philosophical side,
I think as soon as we start to talk about the first person attributes of experience
such as, you know, conscious awareness, free will, then of course we are in danger of leaving
what is easily accessible to experimental science, so obviously we have to be careful
there. But that doesn't mean that it should let spoil the fun. I think quantum mechanics
has a lot to offer in terms of constructs that can be introduced to the philosophy of
mind. And as long as we are sort of aware that we are now in the area of consciousness--oh
sorry, of philosophy, maybe religion, it's I think fair game to introduce models inside
language that deal with sounds that can't--are derived from quantum mechanics or quantum
biology in particular. Let me just name two. Is the notion of free will as we well know,
in classical mechanics, there's no room for this. Things can look from the outside pretty
indeterministic but there's no--everything to the end is determined. Quantum mechanics,
at least offers the possibility of genuine free will to be there. Barely--sorry, barely
many of you are maybe familiar what's called the Free Will Theorem by Kochen and Specher
essentially stating that if in the universe there is just a small modicum of free will,
then this propagates throughout and we will have to conclude that pretty much any particle
is free to choose the outcome of a measurement experiment. And so, let me switch to the last
area in this rhyme, that is consciousness itself, again, a nice example where you can
take a notion from quantum mechanics and apply it. For example, if you--if you generalize
of what Penrose and Stewart are saying is maybe consciousness is just how it feels to
select one component within the way it functions, just one reality within the multiverse strands.
So this is an attractive notion. Again, I'm pretty pessimistic that we will be able to
ever show this for systems with which we cannot communicate. But that isn't to say that we
could include this into our vocabulary of the philosophy of mind. And just, maybe stating
what I find currently is the most attractive ideas there, they come from the British philosopher
Galen Strawson, who gave us a spellbinding talk at Stewart's "Towards the Science of
Consciousness" conference where he was simply stating logically very clean parts. He was
saying, "Me, as a student of nature, I have to accept that raw experience is a material
on which any theory of nature is based." And I happen to know by firsthand experience that
this--making those experiences comes with conscious awareness. So at least I know it's
true for me and then logically, most parsimonious view then would become that any physical existence,
is endowed with experiential equalities comes with conscious awareness. And this actually
cannot be disproven, it might just be wrong. But it's, nevertheless, an attractive picture
because now if in summary we put those things together and picture of the universe, of realities
that might reside from this is the following: the fabric--the physical fabric of reality
has mental properties that we had previously only prescribed to higher mammals. So, if
you look at this, it's pretty intelligent. It has the ability or the potential for genuine
free will and is maybe equipped or there's at least no reason to deny it the possibility
of conscious awareness. So the fabric of reality itself in this view would have to be regarded
as a substrate physical existence itself has mental properties. Again, we are here in the
realm of philosophy but I find this a pretty attractive picture. So, to conclude, I think
quantum biology is a worthwhile intellectual endeavor, where from hardcore engineering
can we get our voice detectors, language translators to do better things; to a higher energy efficient
system; to the design of new drugs; to giving us a richer vocabulary to build our philosophy
of mind. I think there is a rich plethora of things that quantum biology has to offer.
And I think it's currently one of the most attractive areas of science we deal with.
Okay. So, I hope you guys enjoy the day.