Yesterday Quanta Magazine published an article written by Natalie Wolchover, Physicists Create a Wormhole Using a Quantum Computer. I’m shocked and disappointed. I thought Quanta Magazine was the most respectable source of science news, they have published several quality, in-depth articles in difficult topics. But this? It falls so far below any journalistic standard that the magazine is dead to me. The problem is, if they write such bullshit about topics that I do understand, how can I trust their reporting on topics that I do not?
Let’s start with the title. No, scientists haven’t created a wormhole using a quantum computer. They haven’t even simulated one. They simulated some aspects of wormhole dynamics under the crucial assumption that the holographic correspondence of the Sachdev–Ye–Kitaev model holds. Without this assumption they just have a bunch of qubits being entangled, no relation to wormholes.
The article just takes this assumption for granted, and cavalierly goes on to say nonsense like “by manipulating the qubits, the physicists then sent information through the wormhole”. Shortly afterwards, though, it claims that “the experiment can be seen as evidence for the holographic principle”. But didn’t you just assume it was true? And how on Earth can this test the holographic principle? It’s not as if we can do experiments with actual wormholes in order to check if their dynamics match the holographic description.
The deeper problem, though, is that the article never mentions that this simulation can easily be done in a classical computer. Much better, in fact, than in a quantum computer. The scientific content of the paper is not about creating wormholes or investigating the holographic principle, but about getting the quantum computer to work.
As bizarre and over-the-top the article is, it is downright sober compared to the cringeworthy video they released. While the article correctly points out that one needs negative energy to make a wormhole traversable, and that negative energy does not exist, and that the experiment merely simulated a negative energy pulse, the video has no such qualms. It directly stated that the experiment created a negative energy shockwave and used it to transmit qubits through the wormhole.
For me the worst part of the video was at 11:53, where they showed a graph with a bright point labelled “negative energy peak” on it. The problem is that this is not a plot of data, it’s just a drawing, with no connection to the experiment. Lay people will think they are seeing actual data, so this is straightforward disinformation.
Now how did this happen? It seems that Wolchover just published uncritically whatever bullshit Spiropulu told her. Instead of, you know, checking with other people whether it made sense? The article does quote two critics, Woit and Loll. Woit mentions that the holographic correspondence simulates an anti-de Sitter space, whereas our universe is a de Sitter space. Loll mentions that the experiment simulates 2d spacetime, whereas our universe is 4d. Both criticisms are true, of course, but they don’t touch the reason why the Quanta article is nonsense.
EDIT: Quanta has since then changed the title of the article to add the qualification that the wormhole is holographic, and deleted the tweet that said “Physicists have built a wormhole and successfully sent information from one end to the other”. I commend them for taking a step in the right direction, but they haven’t addressed the main problem, which is the content of the article and the video, so this is not enough to get back on my list of reliable sources. Wolchover herself is unrepentant, explicitly denying that she was fooled by the scientists behind the research. Well, the bullshit is her fault then.