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March 24, 2019

Scientists say they reversed time using quantum computer

March 15, 2019
An example of electronics for use in a quantum computer at an IBM Research Center. (Seth Wenig / AP)

Although many Americans turned their clocks forward an hour over the weekend, these scientists reported they were able to turn back time.

According to a report published in the journal Scientific Reports on Tuesday, a team of physicists was able to reverse time on an IBM quantum computer by a fraction of a second.

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The experiment was done by a team of scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, the U.S. and Switzerland.

“Uncovering the origin of the ‘arrow of time’ remains a fundamental scientific challenge,” the report said.

The experiment challenged the second law of thermodynamics — which states “as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. It also states that “there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state,” as explained by Live Science.

A majority of the laws of physics — like the second, primarily considered in the experiment — do not differentiate between the past and future, as explained in Science X. However, the scientists said the experiment where they “reversed time” show these laws can be violated.

For example, if two pool balls colliding was recorded, the same law would explain the balls colliding and rebounding off one another if the video was played normally and in reverse.

A cue ball being used to crack a pyramid of balls, however, would not have the same effect — as the balls would scatter in many directions. Therefore, a playback of the recording would make it easier to determine the event of the scattering as “real-life” and time moving forward, compared to the reverse playback if the scattered balls were to come back together in the perfect pyramid, as explained in Science X.

It seems improbable for an entire pyramid of pool balls to naturally come back together into a perfect triangle.

However, scientists wondered if individual particles, perhaps not typically visible to the human eye, could spontaneously reverse themselves — even for a fraction of a second.

In pursuing their experiment, the report made two separate hypothesis:

First, time reversal would require manipulation from a supersystem to occur, and therefore “in most cases” would not be likely to occur in nature. Second, if by some chance a supersystem were to “emerge for some specific situation,” the time reversal would typically require time “exceeding the universal lifetime.”

Despite this challenge and time reversal seeming improbable in nature, however, the team set out to try and demonstrate time reversal for a scattered electron using a quantum computer.

In the experiment, the physicists used an “evolution program” that would affect the electron “quibits.”

A “quibit,” or quantum bit, is “the fundamental unit of information in a quantum computer, capable of existing in two states, 0 or 1, simultaneously or at a different time,” as defined by Dictionary.com.

To begin, quibits would begin at a stable “basis” state, 0.

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After briefly launching the evolution program, the particles would scatter into a changing pattern of zeroes and ones. Then, a program would modify the state of the computer, causing it to evolve backwards toward its original state of order.

Then, the evolution program would be launched from the second state again — but rather than going back into chaos, it would rewind the quibits to the past and to their original state, as explained by Science X.

This could be explained by giving the pool table a calculated “kick” that made all the scattered pool balls originate perfectly back into the pyramid.

In 85% of the cases, the experiment was successful in reversing the quibits back in time and into their original state.

With improvements in the algorithm, one of the study’s authors, Andrey Lebedev from MIPT and ETH Zurich, told Science X the “noise and errors” could be corrected to make the experiment even more successful.

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