If all goes well, we will witness the launch of the very first commercial quantum computers within an year or two. This will mark the beginning of a new computing era, for these computers will be incredibly powerful, exceeding all our expectations. But what are they, and why are they so powerful? Keep reading to get answers to all your questions.
What is Quantum Computing?
The computers that we have been using so far, make the use of just two bit-states: “0” and “1”. Thus, all calculations performed by these computers are based on these two states. However, quantum computers don’t use these classic bits, but rather “quantum bits”, or “qubits”. These qubits can attain the state of “0”, “1”, or even “1 AND 0” both at the same time. This is possible because they use the principle of quantum superposition.
The technical definition of quantum superposition goes something like this:
“Quantum superposition is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. It states that, much like waves in classical physics, any two (or more) quantum states can be added together (“superposed”) and the result will be another valid quantum state; and conversely, that every quantum state can be represented as a sum of two or more other distinct states.”
The principle can be explained in a simpler way through an example. Let’s say a cat is put inside an opaque box. There is a device in the box as well, which can release poisonous gas if it receives a certain signal. The probability of the transmitter responsible for the signal transmission is 50% at any given time.
Now, if you have closed the box, what is the state of the cat at any given time? Is it alive, or dead? Since at every instance the cat is 50% likely to be dead, and 50% dead, it can be said that it is both alive and dead. This is how the principle of quantum superposition works.
The reason why quantum computers are so powerful is because the “qubits” they use scale exponentially. Thus, a quantum computer that uses two qubits can do four calculations simultaneously. One that uses three qubits can do eight, and one that uses four can do 16, etc. To put it into perspective, a quantum computer with just 300 qubits can do more calculations than the total no. of sand particles on Earth.
How Quantum Computing Will Cause a Disruption in Every Industry?
As Quantum computing will replace existing systems, we will observe a massive disruption in all commercial and governmental sectors. Here are some of the potential applications of Quantum computers in the near future:
- Medicine and Healthcare: Quantum computers will allow us to create complex simulations that will help us create cures for some of the biggest non-curable diseases such as cancer and AIDS. We will also be able to model each of the 20,000+ proteins that are encoded in the human genome and start to simulate their interactions with existing drugs. This will open up a whole new level of medical research and development.
- Machine Learning: Computer programs are become more and more complex, and we need even more powerful machines to run advanced algorithms. Quantum computers will solve this limitation of computational power that has become a hurdle today.
One of the most useful application of quantum computers will be in the development of Artificial Intelligence. Since the technology must mimic the working of a human brain, which is the most complex and powerful computer known to us, only something as potent such as quantum computer can help us make a big step towards AI mastery.
Active Research and Developments in Quantum Computing Today
More and more companies are joining the race of attaining the “quantum power” today. In U.S. alone IBM, Google, and Rigetti Computing (a startup based in Silicon Valley) have made tremendous progress in the quantum domain. In fact, the latter two have already claimed to reach “quantum supremacy” within the next 1.5 years.
What Google is Doing
Not much time ago, Google’s engineers made a radical development in quantum computing, by producing the first completely scalable quantum simulation of a hydrogen molecule. This was a major achievement, that gives us a glimpse of the true potential of quantum technology.
According to Ryan Babbush, Google Quantum Engineer, using the quantum computers we will be able to move to quantitative and predictive chemistry simulations from qualitative and descriptive ones that we use today. This “could modernise the field so dramatically that the examples imaginable today are just the tip of the iceberg”.
John Martinis (a professor at University of California hired by Google to support their quantum computing project) and his team were the first to demonstrate qubits that passed a crucial reliability threshold for a universal quantum. They used a chip with nine qubits to run portion of an error-checking program (called the surface code) which is necessary for such a computer to work.
“We demonstrated the technology to a point where I knew we could scale up,” – Martinis.
IBM Not Far Behind Either
IBM is not far behind in the race of achieving “quantum supremacy”. Just like Google, it has created its own basic quantum computer. Although it uses only five qubits, in contrast to Google’s nine qubits. The company even launched an online service this year to allow the people use its quantum computer through Internet.
Using a software interface, you can use their quantum computer easily. However, it may not be as fun to you as it is for the researchers around the world working on quantum computation technology.
Quantum computers will be a reality soon, and once they are available commercially, it will lead to a widespread disruption. We will be able to progress incredibly fast in every area with the help of the technology. However, at this point not much is possible, except for speculation.