The next frontier the world’s tech companies are sprinting to cross is building the first working quantum computer. Quantum computers are expected to perform marvelous things, almost miraculous – they would be able to develop new materials, perfect data security which would be unbreachable, and predict climate change. Quantum computers are possibly a decade from being functional, but companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, and other startups are doing their best to make them a reality as soon as possible. Here’s what you need to know about the quantum computer:
What is a quantum computer?
Quantum computer is a computer in which the microprocessor chip is packed with ‘quantum bits’, better known as qubits. Quantum computers would change the meaning of high-performance computing, as they would be able to perform calculations, such as solving complex chemical equations, far more complex than what our existing supercomputers can do.
After years of research, researchers are now a little closer to building quantum computers. So what makes them special and what is all the buzz about them?
What exactly is quantum computing?
Quantum computing uses the ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one particular state at one time. Due to this nature of subatomic particles, operations/calculations can be performed thousands of times faster than regular computers. Quantum computers also use less amount of energy than classic computers.
How does it work?
A classic computer uses the binary system using ‘bits’. A bit can exist in only two states – 0 or 1. A quantum computer uses a ‘qubit’ – what is qubit? A qubit also exists in two states, but unlike the bit, a qubit can store a huge amount of information, as they exist in any (or many) superpositions of 1s and 0s. Any qubit can be 1 or 0 simultaneously, which is a unique quantum phenomenon. This is known as ‘superposition’ in physics. This allows qubits to calculate a huge number of calculations simultaneously, increasing computing capacity and speed by a great extent, which is why high-performance computing is possible with qubits.
All qubits are not the same, however. You can’t just think what is qubit and think that all qubits are equal. For example, qubits properties depend on the spin direction of the electron. But all qubits are extremely fragile, with some qubits requiring temperatures up to 20 millikelvins – that is, they need to be kept colder than deep space itself so that they can remain stable.
How is quantum computing different from conventional computing?
Conventional computing is done using a 2-bit state, which can exist in 4 states. But quantum computing is so massive because qubits can exist in more states than the total number of atoms in the entire universe. A quantum computer can be extremely fast due to the fact that any operation performed on one state, is performed on all the states/numbers simultaneously. A 500 qubit system will require a bigger number than all the atoms in the whole universe. This allows many different types of calculation to be performed significantly faster on a quantum computer.
Why is quantum computing important?
Quantum computing has moved from being theoretical fancy to the realm of reality. It is being fine-tuned by researchers, though it has taken more than 50 years to do so. A large amount of work remains to be done in temperature conditions, coherence times and the number of quantum bits that can be stored on a chip. But these would soon be resolved and we would soon gain the advantages of quantum computers.
Quantum computer would not probably be useful for home computing. But a large amount of data that it can process would make a difference to internet security and search. There have been occasions of mass hacking of sites which has led to millions of people losing their data. With the help of quantum computing, hacking would be a thing of the past. This is because, in quantum mechanics, the qubits’ state is unknown, which makes it impossible to clone.
Quantum computing and research
Quantum computers will revolutionize research. As it is able to compute a huge amount of data at one go, it will make calculations much faster. This will especially be useful in security, as mentioned earlier, cancer diagnosis as well as new drug development. Safer airplanes could be designed, as quantum computers could analyze many weather and other conditions to come up with better and safer designed aircraft. Classical computing has never been able to predict the weather perfectly, but quantum computing will probably be able to analyze and predict weather conditions accurately.
Researchers are excited about using quantum mechanics to model complex chemical reactions, something which present-day supercomputers are incapable of. In 2016, Google engineers made use of quantum mechanics to simulate a single hydrogen molecule. Then, IBM modeled the behavior of more complicated molecules. This shows promise that quantum chemists will be able, in the future, to design absolutely new molecules for medicinal uses.
We would, however, have to place implicit trust in these computers as classical or regular computers and humans cannot check the humongous amount of calculations line by line. Scientists can only feed the initial data/conditions and wait for the quantum computer to turn out the results.
Quantum computing and AI
Simulating AI is going to be one of the most important tasks for quantum computers. The massive memory of the latest supercomputers can assist in simulating human intelligence. According to experts, conventional chips which are optimized to solve AI algorithms may be more useful than qubits, in developing AI.
When can we see quantum computers in action?
It has always been seen that any new technology takes time to makes its presence felt. It might take just two to three years, or it takes more than a decade. Firms like Google, IBM, Righetti, and D-Wave are separately making a lot of progress into turning quantum computers a reality.
The world of computers will be revolutionized by the advent of quantum computers. These computers will be able to aid researchers in their efforts in many fields, thus spearheading huge innovations in almost every scientific field.