Any discussion of quantum computing feels like a quantum leap into a sci-fi realm. Make no mistake. We are on the cusp of computer technology that defies logic. Today, the transistors in computers are as small as we can make them with existing technology. So, computer innovators began to seek possible solutions at the atomic and subatomic level in a field known as quantum computing. Industry leaders are racing to develop and launch a viable quantum computer and make it commercially available. Quantum computers would provide the computing power required to solve problems that are currently intractable for classical computers—at least in a timeframe that’s practical.
What is quantum computing?
Quantum physics has defied logic since the atom was first studied in the early 20th century. It turns out atoms do not follow the traditional rules of physics. Quantum particles can move forward or backward in time, exist in two places at once and even “teleport.” It’s these strange behaviours that quantum computers aim to use to their advantage.
Classical computers manipulate ones and zeroes to crunch through operations, but quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits. Just like classical computers, quantum computers use ones and zeros, but qubits have a third state called “superposition” that allows them to represent a one or a zero at the same time. Instead of analysing a one or a zero sequentially, superposition allows two qubits in superposition to represent four scenarios at the same time. Therefore, the time it takes to crunch a data set is significantly reduced.
Every day we create volumes of data. In order to adequately process it all to extract meaning from it, we require much more computing power. That’s where quantum computers step in to save the day.
Everyone should know these 15 things about quantum computing
Quantum computers can solve problems that are impossible or would take a traditional computer an impractical amount of time (a billion years) to solve.
Virtually unbreakable encryption? Quantum computers will change the landscape of data security. Even though quantum computers would be able to crack many of today’s encryption techniques, predictions are that they would create hack-proof replacements.
Classical computers are better at some tasks than quantum computers (email, spreadsheets and desktop publishing to name a few). The intent of quantum computers is to be a different tool to solve different problems, not to replace classical computers.
Quantum computers are great for solving optimisation problems from figuring out the best way to schedule flights at an airport to determining the best delivery routes for the FedEx truck.
Google announced it has a quantum computer that is 100 million times faster than any classical computer in its lab.
Every day, we produce 2.5 exabytes of data. That number is equivalent to the content on 5 million laptops. Quantum computers will make it possible to process the amount of data we’re generating in the age of big data.
In order to keep quantum computers stable, they need to be cold. That’s why the inside of D-Wave Systems’ quantum computer is -460 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Professor Catherine McGeoch at Amherst University, a quantum computer is “thousands of times” faster than a conventional computer.
Superposition is the term used to describe the quantum state where particles can exist in multiple states at the same time, and which allows quantum computers to look at many different variables at the same time.
Rather than use more electricity, quantum computers will reduce power consumption anywhere from 100 up to 1000 times because quantum computers use quantum tunnelling.
Quantum computers are very fragile. Any kind of vibration impacts the atoms and causes decoherence.
There are several algorithms already developed for quantum computers including Grover’s for searching an unstructured database and Shor’s for factoring large numbers.
Once a stable quantum computer gets developed, expect that machine learning will exponentially accelerate even reducing the time to solve a problem from hundreds of thousands of years to seconds.
Remember when IBM’s computer Deep Blue defeated chess champion, Garry Kasparov in 1997? It was able to gain a competitive advantage because it examined 200 million possible moves each second. A quantum machine would be able to calculate 1 trillion moves per second!
This year, Google stated publicly that it would produce a viable quantum computer in the next 5 years and added that they would reach “quantum supremacy” with a 50-qubit quantum computer. The top supercomputers can still manage everything a five- to 20-qubit quantum computer can, but will be surpassed by a machine with 50 qubits and will attain supremacy at that point. Shortly after that announcement, IBM said it would offer commercial quantum machines to businesses within a year.
Even though a true quantum computer is still not a reality, it’s clear that the race is on.
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