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Quantum computing is as similar to traditional computing as your MacBook is to a stone tablet. Not only are these two processes not even in the same league, but they don’t even operate based on the same principles.
The development of quantum computers is a coup de tat for the technology industry. If successful, quantum theorists, engineers, and programmers would smash barriers that even today’s supercomputers cannot touch.
Do you know how quantum computing can change the world? We put together a short guide to everything you need to know about quantum computers.
Quantum Computers and Quantum Computing
Quantum computers are the hardware that performs tasks known as quantum computing. In its completed state, quantum computing takes advantage of quantum physics principle that notes subatomic particles may be in multiple states at the same time. The behavior of these tiny particles means that quantum computers can perform operations far faster than classical computers with even less energy.
How does it differ from the kind of computing and processing we do now? These two processes are fundamentally different. Classical computing processes define a piece of data as one that exists in one of two but not both states. Information is either a 1 or 0. It cannot be both 1 and 0. In quantum computing, two states are the norm, which means they store more information than single state data like 1 or 0.
What Is a Qubit?
In classic computing, bits can be a 1 or a 0. They cannot be anything else nor can they be both a 1 or 0 at the same time.
Because quantum computing throws out the binary approach to information, it needs a new name. The qubit, short for the quantum bit, is the counterpart to the 1 or 0 bit in classic computing. It is a basic unit of data in a quantum computer. Qubits can be a 1 or 0, or they can be a 1 and 0.
To understand why this is so important, turn to the theories of superposition and entanglement. In physics, electrons move and spin. The electron may spin while aligned with or opposite to a magnetic field; it either spins up or down. A pulse of energy may change the spin from up to down. Quantum law says that if you use half a unit of laser energy and isolate the particle, then it enters a superposition of states where it spins both up and down (both aligned and opposite to a magnetic field) at the same time.
Superposition explains how a qubit could be both a 1 and 0 at the same time. But qubits don’t work alone. Subatomic particles interact with other particles.
Entanglement in quantum computing refers to particles that interacted pat one point and remain connected in some way and can connect in pairs.
If one particle is spinning, then the other particle knows, which allows it to spin in the opposite direction.
Why and how does this happen? We don’t know, but it is a real phenomenon and taken as a rare given in physics.
When superposition and entanglement exist, they create a computing power that extends beyond the wildest dreams. When you work with a 2-bit computer, you can store four configurations: 00, 11, 01, and 10. With a 2-qubit computer, you store all four numbers at once.
A Short History of Quantum Computers
Where did the idea for quantum computing come from? Quantum computing principles come from developments in early 20th century physics. When physics researchers realized that their understanding of the smallest particles in the world wasn’t complete, they began to look for new and expanded explanations.
The field of quantum mechanics, which was itself refuted by scientists like Albert Einstein, arrived to figure out why particles deviated from otherwise expected behaviors. For example, scientists tried to explain the problem of subatomic particles by saying that they only existed when observed. Don’t follow? Don’t worry. As Nobel prize-winning quantum theory scientist Richard Feynman once said, “Nobody understands quantum mechanics.” It’s even possible to argue that not understanding
is precisely the point.
The bottom line is that quantum computers exist because of revelations in science that began nearly a century ago. Principles of quantum computing use quantum mechanics and theory as a basis for operating, and it makes them as different from traditional computers is as quantum theory is from Newtonian physics.
What Quantum Computers Do
Quantum computing principles differ so vastly from traditional computing that it’s difficult to compare their operations with what even our high-spec traditional computers do. The most prominent use for quantum computers thus bar has in mathematics. Scientists rely on these computers to eventually solve mathematical problems that are otherwise impossible to crack, like finding the largest prime numbers.
Prime numbers are important in fields like cryptography. By working well with prime numbers, quantum computers could either build unfathomably difficult code. More importantly, quantum computers would make a piece work of existing cryptography. Researchers are already working on systems to help prevent quantum computing from destroying existing cryptography standards. Another discipline quantum computers offer promise in is chemistry. Scientists predict that they could use the computers to model chemical reactions too complicated for even today’s
Some evidence of quantum computing’s applications in chemistry already exist. In 2016, Google engineers simulated a hydrogen molecule using a quantum device. IBM continues to work on modeling molecules even more complex than hydrogen.
What does that mean for chemistry? Quantum computing could use them in medicine to design new molecules. Their ultimate goal is to use quantum computing to create a Haber-Bosch process model. If they can use a model to find out what makes producing artificial ammonia so inefficient, they can improve the process.
Quantum Computers Exist but Not in Their Ideal Form
Ask a quantum computing engineer when their ability to solve science’s toughest problems will be realized, and you’ll find yourself met with a blank stare. Quantum computers exist, but it wouldn’t even be fair to say the science is in its infancy. It remains in the embryo stage of development.
When talking about quantum computers, it’s important to remember that quantum computing at this point remains speculation in many ways. IBM built a 50-qubit system, and Google claims to have a 47-qubit system, but the pie-in-the-sky applications scientists dream about are very far away.
At the same time, it’s possible to say quantum computers are closer than ever. Once the purview of a tiny number of scientists, tech giants like Google and IBM now empty their coffers into the abyss that is quantum computing science. Investors see the value, too. In 2017, startups in the sector enjoyed a cash influx of $241 million from investors, which was three times the amount received in 2016.
The timeline for quantum computing depends on who you ask. Google, who continues to pursue quantum computing doggedly, said in 2017 that it had plans to commercialize quantum computing by 2022. The company also said it intended to achieve “quantum supremacy” at the end of 2017. If Google reached its goal, it did not share its success with the public. Quantum supremacy refers to a point in technological development where quantum computers overcome the performance of conventional computing to a point where our current computers couldn’t fathom to keep up.
Companies to Watch in Quantum Computing
A few companies come up again and again in the field of quantum computers: IBM and Google. While these two heavy-hitters have funding and some of the best researchers in the field, they aren’t alone in their efforts.
Intel is another critical player in quantum computing. In 2015, the old-school Silicon Valley company began working collaboratively with QuTech, a start-up in the field. Intel’s specialty was and remains processors, but their work in the quantum space moves across hardware, software, qubit devices, and quantum applications.
In 2018, Intel unveiled an exciting innovation: a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip called Tangle Lake.
The first company to make these computers available on the market was Canada’s D-Wave Systems, who released the first qubit device in 2011. A round of funding totaling $50 million in early 2018 cemented its plans to apply quantum computing to the public cloud within the year.
China’s central government is also making a national push for quantum computing. It’s in the process of building the National Laboratory of Quantum Information Sciences for a price tag of $10 billion. Its investment signals the country’s intent to be a key player in the race to quantum computing.
Whoever reaches the answer first has the potential to patent and own the technology that will change the world. The race is on. It may be the most expensive technology race in history, but it also offers the biggest payoff.
Quantum Computing Is an Evolving Field
Quantum computers are as close to your PC as your iPad is to your Etch-a-Sketch. They’re not just more technologically-sophisticated. Quantum computers play by a different set of rules.
The field offers potential that seems unbounded, but much of that potential still seems far away. Quantum devices exist, but both computing and the underlying field of quantum mechanism still have questions that remain unanswered.
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