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From Tetrapod Migration to Quantum Computing, All Journeys Begin with a Single Step

From an Interview with Dr. Xiangdong Li, Computer Systems Technology

Professor Li

Computer technology is poised to take a giant leap forward in the not too distant future, says New York City College of Technology Professor Xiangdong Li. A native of Beijing who came to the U.S. more than a decade ago, Dr. Li now teaches Computer Systems Technology at the College.

“Computers based on quantum mechanics,” Li notes, “one day will process information side-by-side with today’s conventional or classical computers, which are based on operational applications of Newtonian physics.”

When asked about the scientific, technological and other advances underlying the coming change, Dr. Li answers in a manner consistent with the humor he often brings to his teaching style.

“No single advance can be said to be responsible for the technological leap in computer technology that we are about to make. But like everything else in our modern world,” Li quips, “the development of quantum computing can trace its roots back some 360 million years to when the tetrapods first stepped out of the oceans to make their home on dry land. Had that migration never occurred, nature might not have gone on to produce bipedal primate mammals – land animals that moved about on their two lower limbs and  used their upper limbs for other purposes.”

Over time, these purposes came to include the fashioning of tools, he explains. This was after our nomadic bipedal mammalian ancestors abandoned hunting and gathering and took up the practice of farming and established the permanent settlements that led to today’s urban centers, global industrialization and the technological revolution that have made possible the contemporary world.

“Those tetrapods had no idea, of course, to what their migration would lead,” Li adds. “Their emergence from their watery origins was the first small step on the long journey, for example, to the Internet. They had no idea that evolutionary processes would produce an intelligent land-based species called Homo sapiens and individual specimens with names like Konrad Zuse, Alan Turing, Richard Feynman and Bill Gates. Nor did they know that from their relocation would emerge great commercial enterprises like IBM, Intel and Apple Computer.”

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