At MIT, each undergraduate has a few different “advisers” during their stay. You have a “freshman adviser” during your first year; after you declare a major, you get an adviser within your department who basically signs paperwork for you once or twice a term. If you survive a few years at the Institute, you’ll also work with a “thesis adviser,” who probably won’t be the same person as your departmental adviser. This story concerns my paperwork-signing adviser, Edward Farhi. Since Krishna Rajagopal told our entire quantum class about this incident, I figure it’s OK to repeat the tale here.
Prof. Farhi works in quantum computation, it so happens, and in the course of this work, he had cause to use some pretty hefty computer power. The details don’t matter so much, but doing the simulations he had to do required so many computrons that eventually his research hit a bottleneck.
This was the situation when he gave a presentation to a roomful of funding-agency representatives, describing his research. After his talk, a man from the NSA approached him and said, “That is very interesting work you do.”
Farhi replied, “Thank you. Of course, as I mentioned, we’re stalled at the moment, since we’ve gone as far as we can go with the computers we have. If we could use your computers. . .”
[This is where Rajagopal interpolated, “Eddie is pretty gutsy.”]
The man from the NSA stared blankly at him. “I can neither confirm nor deny,” he said, “that the National Security Agency has computers.”