What if

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SUSAN PETRIE, SENIOR EDITOR, [email protected]

Each day I drive about 40 miles east across Route 20, from Albany, N.Y., to Pittsfield, Mass., to get to work. It’s an hour through mostly rural countryside, and the commute gives me time to transition. It begins in the terrestrial world of forests and pavement and 18-wheelers and snow tires and deer, and ends at my desk, where I then begin navigating the world of photonics. It’s a transmogrification, passing through a literal and figurative tunnel, into another reality.

SUSAN PETRIELately, as I drive the tunnel, I’ve noticed it’s littered with roadkill. Literally. As the Australian wildfires rage, I’ve heard people comment, “We can figure out a way to the moon, but can’t figure out a way to prevent fires?” I apply the same logic to cars, trucks, and wildlife: Why can we send an imaging probe most of the way to the sun but we can’t figure out how to stop flattening fox and deer? Well, a few reasons: 1) priorities, 2) outdated laws, 3) staffing, and 4) desensitization. What to do? Maybe one answer lies in the “Industry Insight” column on quantum technology written by Sujatha Ramanujan and Mark Tolbert (click here).

In the column, they point out that quantum computing isn’t just about speed. More importantly, it’s about learning to think differently. The example they offered inspired me to try a quantum thought experiment. I’m not sure I have it completely right, but here goes:

What if there was a kind of quantum command-and-control center dedicated to solving the big problems of the classical world? It would have a publicly available “quantum solutions” database. To use it, one could enter a classical-world problem (for example, roadkill), and the computer would respond with photonics- and quantum-technology-based solutions. It would (instantly) map the process; list the necessary technologies (lidar, IR sensing, thermal imaging, etc.); list the resources (humans, robots, agencies, whatever) required to create or work with the technologies; and target the friction points (zoning laws) needing to be overcome or changed. Maybe it could toss in an estimated timeline and cost analysis, too.

If this kind of multipronged problem-solving is what quantum computing is about, then what if countries had databases of national priorities? What if there were legible maps for progress, instead of ignorance or failed 11th-hour rescue attempts? What if there was action instead of desensitization? Maybe we’d be quicker and more adept at harnessing fantastic emerging technologies, culturally proactive instead of reactive. Maybe we could head off destruction that we now shrug off as tragic but inevitable.

While the tunnel that connects classical and quantum isn’t entirely built or understood yet, Photonics Spectra continues to curate a conversation between the two, between invisible and visible, theory and application. This month, there are newly proposed Majorana-like photons (click here) and plasmonic modulators (click here). Straddling the visible and invisible, there are articles on IR sensors (click here), NIR spectroscopy (click here), and a “3 Questions” interview that considers lidar and insect monitoring (click here). An article on flow visualization and AI follows (click here). And laser cleaning for industrial applications will stop you in your tracks with its classical-world solutions (click here).


Published: February 2020

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