The Future of Quantum Computing

Computers have become integral to our ways of life—at work, for entertainment, and even for day-to-day tasks. However, at our current rate, we will run out of computer capacity on Earth by 2040. That’s where quantum computing comes in.

In quantum mechanics, tiny particles such as atoms, electrons, and photons can take different states at the same time. This is also one of the bases of quantum computing. Quantum computers encode information into quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in superposition. This means the qubit stores 0s and 1s and every point in between at the same time. With qubits, the steps of a calculation can be done at once rather than in sequence because the computer contains multiple states simultaneously. This ability is called quantum parallelism.

Another key feature of quantum computers is entanglement. Entanglement is a phenomenon where qubits are linked in perfect unison. An outside force applied to only one qubit will also affect the linked qubit. This occurs even if the qubits are physically far from one another. These two characteristics are key in understanding how quantum computers will be able to perform operations more quickly and using less energy than normal computers.

Currently, a programmable quantum processor has 5 qubits. Scientists are working on machines that can manipulate 10 — 20 qubits to work together. The problem physicists face is how to make quantum computing reliable and scalable. A computer that would be used for practical applications would require several dozen qubits.

IBM states that future applications of quantum computers include:

  • Drug and Materials Discovery: Untangling the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions, leading to the discovery of new medicines and materials
  • Supply Chain & Logistics: Finding the optimal path across global systems of systems for ultra-efficient logistics and supply chains, such as optimizing fleet operations for deliveries during the holiday season
  • Financial Services: Finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments
  • Artificial Intelligence: Making facets of artificial intelligence such as machine learning much more powerful when data sets can be too big such as searching images or video
  • Cloud Security: Making cloud computing more secure by using the laws of quantum physics to enhance private data safety

In early March, IBM made their quantum computing available to the public. IBM Q, for businesses, will have quantum computing systems and services available in the cloud. Their quantum processors have 5 qubits with an open API for developer access. They recently unveiled a 17-qubit quantum computer, and have said they are aiming to build a 50-qubit quantum computer within the next few years. Several startups like Rigetti Computing and D-Wave, are trying their hand at building quantum computers. Rigetti is trying to build a chip that will accelerate machine learning. Their end goal is a quantum-cloud service for customers. so they can use their supercomputing chips. Forest, Rigetti’s API for quantum computing in the cloud, recently opened for beta testing. D-Wave also announced that a 2000-qubit computer would be commercially available later this year.

Sources: University of Waterloo, How Stuff Works, WIRED

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