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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Life in a quantum world

Life in a quantum world

We live in a Newtonian world. One constructed largely on the basis of an understanding of physics established over three hundred years ago.

There are many exceptions to this generalisation. Living examples of Gibson’s note that the future is unevenly distributed. From the nuclear weapon to the phone in your pocket, we unknowingly bear witness to the rising quantum age on a daily basis.

But, as the song goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

I spent a couple of hours on Friday afternoon listening to talks by academics at the National Graphene Institute, where I am taking up a six month informal post as ‘resident futurist’. I plan to spend a half a day there every few weeks, interviewing researchers and writing about the possibilities presented by two dimensional materials.

Friday’s talks were not designed to be easily digestible. I was probably the only person in the room without, at the minimum, a Masters degree in physics. There was at least one Nobel prize winner. I found myself scribbling down terms and acronyms for later research.

Changing reality

Despite my lack of understanding of the terminology and some of the fundamental concepts, I found the talks absolutely fascinating. One thing was absolutely clear: we are rapidly gaining a much greater level of clarity about the fundamental building blocks of matter, how to manipulate them and apply their properties. In the next few years we will be using that understanding in a much broader range of scenarios, transitioning us to a truly quantum age.

What I mean by that is that we will see greater changes in the physical reality of our world, not just in its digital overlays (though the boundary between the two will be increasingly blurred by connected devices and mixed reality). The materials from which we make our world will continue to change, shifting the dimensions of our world and disrupting long-embedded technologies that have served us well for centuries.

Of course, this will not happen overnight. It seems absurd to talk of rapid change in the media of our environment while sat in a 150 year old house, with a cracked and pot-holed road outside revealing its original cobbles. But in those areas of our life with relatively high turnover: clothes, consumables, packaging, even cars, expect to see some new and unexpected shapes, and properties in coming years.

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Tom Cheesewright