Updated: May 18
The age of quantum computing might be upon us, and set to change the world in ways we can only imagine.
There is much confusion in the layman world when it comes to quantum computing, and the information available on the matter is quite cryptic. The best way to begin explaining quantum computing is to highlight the problem it tries to solve the limitation of binary computing. Binary computing is the core foundation of all modern-day computers, at the core of every processor is a switch much like the switch that turns the lightbulb in your home. And that switch functions as two simple value, on or off. In the computer world, that on and off value translated as 1 for on and 0 for off. If you can imagine thousands of football fields with the same standard light switch stretched all across them and there would still be more switches in a single modern-day processor.
We are oversimplifying here, of course, there are other functions that we need to consider, such as 'AND' or "OR' gates. But to address the problem, we are trying to explain here; we focus on the central values which run through a circuit or processor, which is 0 and 1. The limitation we face at this point is the amount of information that can process in a given amount of time. Say we can gather temperatures, humidity and wind from millions of points across the world, and imagine if we gather around ten data points for every second at every point in an attempt to map where a hurricane is about to move. Which would be impossible with even today's supercomputer standard; there is just so much information that processing these data points cannot be done fast enough to project or map where accurately the data ends up; in this case, map where the hurricane may end up.
The data points we mentioned earlier are just for illustration purposes, there are far more data which we have not accounted for, and this brings us to our present-day problem.
Moore's law indicated the number of processing power for each chip should double every eighteen months, but this is becoming less and less true, we are reaching physical limitations. We are approaching close to the size of atoms, and the fear is we may not be able to go much smaller. Temporarily, the workaround has been to create multiple cores, which is like hiring more staff in an office. Say you have an office clerk who needs to process some data for you, no matter how great that clerk is at his job, more work can happen if you have two great employees. And the argument can be made that two or three average competent employees can finish more work than the most efficient clerk in the entire world. However, no matter the number of cores, we are coming close to pushing the limitations of that too. Which brings up back to the value 1 and 0, what if instead of two values at each point we instead had an unlimited number of values?
Is there a working quantum computer at the moment?
What is a Quantum Computer?
Yes, there is one at an IBM research facility in Zurich among a few others. At best we are still in the experimental phase in quantum computer development and the ones we have working at the moment work at absolute zero temperature. Such low temperatures are far from commercially viable and show how far away we are when it comes to combining quantum computing with household computing. Households do not need quantum computers, scientists do, and this is where quantum computing makes their first appearance. In laboratories and sophisticated research, facilities are making high levels of extreme calculations. With quantum computing, we would not just map weather patterns and forecasts correctly but also the entire movement within our galaxy itself. And instead of having these quantum computers sitting in every research facility in the world, we can house them in one centralized facility to process complex amounts of data as a cloud computing server. The limitations here are far beyond our current projective imagination. No one in the 1990s could have predicted us using smartphones to control a drone with cameras or an app with filters that can put an animated 3D beard on your face. Humankind ingenuity is anything but predictable making it truly hard to predict where quantum computing pushes humankind forward.
Back to our earlier point, how does quantum computing work?
What is a Quantum Computer?
Destroying the value limitations of our current technology is the goal of quantum computing. As you remember, binary computing has two values, an off or an on. And binary computing operates in bits, and a string of eight bits becomes a byte. In each bit, the value can be 1 or 0, so in two bits we can have four combinations of 00, 01, 10 and 11. So for one bit, you can have two, two bits give you four combination values, and three bits give you eight. What if one bit has 3 values instead of the usual 1 and 0. Say this new hypothetical value is 0, 1 and 2. And for these individual trinary computing bits, one bit has three values, two bits have nine values, and three-bit has twenty-seven values. Do you see how by improving the number of possible values within each bit drastically increases the potential amount of data that can be stored? So for the same space of three slots of bits, a binary computer can give you 8 data, and a trinary computer gives you 27. A quantum computer is supposed to not just have more than two values in each qubit (quantum bit); it is supposed to have a limitless number of values, which is made possible because of something called a superposition. We feel it is best not to explain superposition since it is not something we understand enough ourselves and at best any information we know about it to be nothing more than a regurgitation of information. What you need to know is that quantum computing aims to improve the possible combination of values between bits or in this case, qubits. And this solves the technological limitation that matter has imposed in the world of computer engineering and extrapolate the potential of chips made in the future.
How much faster are we expecting quantum computers to be?
What is a Quantum Computer?
Google has a quantum computer of 53-qubit capable of processing at speeds one hundred million times faster than any conventional modern-day computer. Bear in mind, these are prototypes at best and is nowhere near what the potential of the final product quantum computer. Humankind is on its way to something extraordinary once this technology is perfect. We may finally be able to find out how our brains work by completely mapping it out using MRI machines; Ultrasound machines can calculate more accurately all the separate sound wavelengths to convert it into a more realistic picture of a fetus. What else is there to say other than we can't wait for quantum computers!
Thank you for reading 'What is a Quantum Computer?' by IT Block. IT Block is an IT support services provider based in Singapore and we love sharing our IT knowledge with the world.