Architecture is typically realized by selecting existing materials for use in construction. As material science becomes more sophisticated, though, architects will have increased capabilities to design the architecture of materials themselves. To realize this objective, the ability to process large quantities of information is paramount.
A research effort led by the University of New South Wales suggests that we may be closer to this goal. A team of scientists directed by physicist Andrew Dzurak claims to have made the latest breakthrough in quantum computing, with the development of a single-electron-based silicon chip. Dzurak and other experts in his field are attempting to create computers based on "qubits" (quantum bits) which can handle signals in a much more sophisticated fashion than the relatively clunky binary switches used in today's computers. With their advanced capabilities, quantum computers hold the promise of solving previously difficult problems such as material design.
“We are used to designing cars and airplanes with computers,” says Dzurak, who directs the Australian National Fabrication Facility. “Imagine if you could start building your molecule or your material on a computer and then completely simulate its behavior.”
This development is not only interesting from the viewpoint of being able to exert unprecedented control over material properties; it also raises interesting questions about the line between materials and information. At the quantum scale, where information is mobilized at the atomic level to direct the arrangement of other atomic building blocks, the rigid boundary between substance and data slackens.
As author William Duncan presaged in his book Manufacturing 2000 (AMACOM, 1994), "The single most important material used by manufacturers in the future will be data. ... At some point many years down the road, the raw materials will be chemical 'slurries' and raw elements that may be assembled and reassembled or restructured in replication processes."
When this speculative future comes to pass, imagine what architectural specifications will look like.