A mezzo-soprano singing with a quantum computer is 2016's craziest duet

What do a Welsh mezzo-soprano, a castle in the southwest of England, and a quantum computer in Los Angeles have in common? Answer: they all teamed up recently for a musical performance that, according to its creator, represents the “first computer music algorithm implemented on a quantum computer [and] the first live use of explicit quantum processes in an artistic piece.”

Essentially the idea behind the performance was to give an astonishingly powerful quantum computer the opportunity to create music alongside a trained (human) classical singer. In a 15-minute piece, broken into three different movements, mezzo-soprano Juliette Pochin had her voice sent across the internet to the quantum D-Wave machine at the University of South California’s Information Sciences Institute in Marina Del Rey. There, her voice was run through algorithms to create new sounds, which were then sent back to England, and incorporated into the live performance.


“There are three subsystems [involved],” organizer Alexis Kirke, senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at England’s Plymouth University, told Digital Trends. “The laptop has a sound generator and communications server in the room with Juliette. The quantum computer is then called every 3 seconds, and has two sets of qubits: one to calculate harmonies, and one for melodic and noise generation. The harmonic qubits are designed musically, and solve a simple harmony problem using quantum annealing. The harmony system is actually sent specific notes by the composer which it then harmonizes. It returns multiple solutions, and in the [performance’s] second movement these are combined into giant ‘superposition’ chords which sonically represent the multiple solutions which were stored in the quantum state before it collapsed.”

Confused? You’d be forgiven for not understanding all the intricacies of the work, but it’s a fascinating example of how even processes as seemingly abstract as quantum computing can be used to create fascinating art. “I was overwhelmed by how well it went,” Kirke said. “The performance went better than all the rehearsals. Juliette sounded wonderful, and the music generated live by the computer, particularly in its solo movement in part two, was great. To be there as an audience heard the giant ‘superposition’ chords being built in that old dark performance place, was something I will always be glad to have experienced.”

And here we were thinking a quantum musical performance would just sound like the yowling of Schrödinger’s cat!

Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.