Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize the planet. It has the potential to revolutionize medicine, decryption, communications, and artificial intelligence. Quantum computers are being developed by companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and Google. China has put billions of dollars into the project.
Google recently claimed quantum supremacy, claiming that it was the first time a quantum computer surpassed a standard one. But, first and foremost, what is quantum computing? What’s more, how does it work?
What is quantum computing, and how does it work?
Let’s begin with the fundamentals.
Bits are used in a typical computer chip. These are tiny switches that can be in either the off (expressed by a zero) or the on (represented by a one) state. Every program you use, every website you visit, and every snapshot you take is made up of millions of tiny pieces in some form of one-to-one correspondence.
This is OK for most things, but it does not reflect how the universe operates in reality. Things aren’t always on or off in nature. They are unsure. Even our most powerful supercomputers struggle to deal with ambiguity. That is an issue.
That’s because physicists have discovered over the last century that when you get down to a very small scale, strange things start to happen. To explain them, they’ve created an entirely new branch of science. It’s referred to as quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics underpins physics, which in turn underpins chemistry, which in turn underpins biology. Scientists will need a better approach to make computations that can handle uncertainty in order to accurately replicate any of these phenomena. Quantum computers are here to help.
What are quantum computers and how do they work?
Quantum computers employ qubits instead of bits. Qubits can be in’superposition,’ or being both on and off at the same time, or anywhere on a spectrum between the two, rather than merely being on or off.
Take a coin and toss it. It can be either heads or tails if you flip it. However, if you spin it, it has a possibility of landing on heads or tails. It can be either until you quantify it by halting the coin. One of the features that makes quantum computers so powerful is superposition, which is similar to a spinning coin. Uncertainty is allowed with a qubit.
If you ask a regular computer to find its way out of a maze, it will test each branch one at a time, ruling them out one by one until it finds the right one. A quantum computer can traverse all of the maze’s paths at the same time. It has the ability to hold doubt in its mind.
It’s like putting your finger through the pages of a choose your own adventure book. Instead of having to restart the book if your character dies, you can choose an alternative path right away.
Entanglement is something else that qubits can perform. Normally, when two coins are flipped, the outcome of one has no influence on the outcome of the other. They’re self-sufficient. Even if two particles are physically different, they are connected together via entanglement. If one of them comes up heads, the other will as well.
It sounds magical, yet scientists are still baffled as to how or why it works. However, in the context of quantum computing, it means that information can be moved around even if it involves uncertainty. You can use that spinning coin to make intricate calculations. And if you can connect numerous qubits, you can solve problems that would take millions of years for our finest computers to solve.
What are the capabilities of quantum computers?
Quantum computers are about more than just getting things done faster and more efficiently. They’ll allow us to do things we couldn’t have imagined without them. Things that not even the most powerful supercomputer can do.
They have the potential to propel artificial intelligence forward at a breakneck pace. They’re already being used by Google to develop self-driving car software. They’ll also come in handy when simulating chemical reactions.
Supercomputers can currently only analyze the most basic substances. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use the same quantum qualities as the molecules they’re simulating. They should be able to handle even the most complex reactions with ease.
This might entail more efficient products, such as new battery materials for electric automobiles, better and less expensive pharmaceuticals, and dramatically enhanced solar panels. Quantum simulations may possibly aid in the discovery of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, according to scientists.
Quantum computers will be useful in any situation where a vast, unpredictable, and complex system needs to be simulated. Quantum computing may be used to comprehend quantum physics in a variety of ways, including predicting financial markets, improving weather forecasts, and modeling the behavior of individual electrons.
Another important application will be cryptography. Many encryption schemes now rely on the difficulty of breaking huge numbers down into prime numbers. This is known as factoring, and it is slow, expensive, and inefficient on traditional computers. Quantum computers, on the other hand, can accomplish it quickly. And this could jeopardize our data.
There are rumors that intelligence services throughout the world are already accumulating large volumes of encrypted data in the hopes of one day being able to decrypt it using a quantum computer.
Quantum encryption is the only way to fight back. This is based on the uncertainty principle, which states that it is impossible to measure anything without changing the outcome. The keys of quantum encryption couldn’t be copied or compromised. They’d be utterly impenetrable.
When will I be able to get my hands on a quantum computer?
A quantum chip will almost certainly never be found in your laptop or smartphone. The iPhone Q will not be released. Quantum computers have been theorized for decades, but their development has been slowed by the fact that they are extremely sensitive to interference.
A qubit can be knocked out of its delicate condition of superposition by almost anything. As a result, quantum computers must be kept free of all electrical interference and kept at temperatures near to absolute zero. That’s colder than the farthest reaches of the universe.
Academics and corporations will mostly use them, and they will most likely be accessed remotely. IBM’s quantum computer can now be used via the company’s website, and you can even play a card game with it.
However, we still have a long way to go before quantum computers can perform everything they promise. The best quantum computers now have around 50 qubits. That alone makes them extremely powerful, because every qubit added increases processing capability exponentially. However, because to the interference issues, they have extremely high error rates.
They’re powerful, but they’re also unreliable. For the time being, assertions of quantum supremacy must be treated with a grain of salt. Google issued a study in October 2019 claiming to have achieved quantum supremacy — the moment at which a quantum computer may outperform a classical computer. However, Google’s competitors contested the claim, claiming that Google had not fully used the potential of current supercomputers.
So far, the majority of major discoveries have occurred in controlled environments or with challenges for which we already have an answer. In any case, achieving quantum supremacy does not imply that quantum computers are equipped to perform useful tasks.
Researchers have made significant progress in constructing quantum computer algorithms. However, the devices themselves still require a great deal of improvement.
Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize the world, but its future is currently unknown.