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Michael Nielsen on Quantum, Collaboration & Other Things

Michael Nielsen, a quantum computing expert and champion of open science, recently sat down with the Mercatus Center’s Tyler Cowen for a far-ranging discussion. A central theme was Nielsen’s work and insights around quantum computing — a field he has helped shape through pioneering research and his seminal text on the topic.

On the current status of quantum computing, Nielsen struck a measured tone: “I don’t think it’s solved at all. But the fact that there’s sort of order 100 qubit systems which you can apparently manipulate as you will, suggests to me we just wait — it’s going to happen.” He remains optimistic about key breakthroughs, even if major applications are still on the horizon.

Nielsen also shared his perspective on what quantum computing could unlock.

“The most interesting thing is probably discovery of new materials,” he said. “It’s very hard to do simulations of stuff down at the quantum scale the ways that we have are pretty terrible and often produce wrong results.”

Accurate quantum simulations could be the disruptive factor, it seems.

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Beyond quantum, the discussion ranged from the underrated value of travel (“The world is so incredibly deep”) to the surprise factors driving scientific progress (“Things which we cannot see in part because we are so embedded in our current models and narratives”).

Through it all, Nielsen’s unique voice shone through — an eclectic polymath seeking deeper truths. As he put it: “I internalized a lot of Ivan Illich, John Holt, A.S. Neill and Paulo Freire as a kid.” This shaped his lifelong drive to empower individuals and challenge institutions.

The interview offered a glimpse into one of the great modern minds working at the vanguard of multiple disciplines. For Nielsen, the pursuit of knowledge knows no boundaries — from the strange truths of quantum mechanics to the fragile foundations of our civilization itself.

Featured image: Credit: Michael Nielsen

James Dargan

James Dargan is a writer and researcher at The Quantum Insider. His focus is on the QC startup ecosystem and he writes articles on the space that have a tone accessible to the average reader.

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