It wasn’t too long ago when I was researching another topic and came across a video on quantum computing. Ultimately, I was exposed to a concept I thought had only existed in sci-fi movies and technological pipe dreams of the future. I learned more than I ever thought possible about quantum computing. Quite difficult to understand without being introduced to the new terminology, the goal of this article is to give you an accurate insight into what quantum computing is.
What is Quantum Computing?
In a nutshell, a quantum computer is a type of computer that uses quantum mechanics to perform certain types of computations more efficiently than a traditional computer can. Today’s computers, even the most advanced ones on the market, use a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing 1s or 0s, also known as bits. Everything from your Instagram stories and text messages to your Spotify playlist and YouTube videos are long strings of these binary digits. The secret recipe to the power of quantum computing rests in its capacity to generate and manipulate quantum bits, or qubits.
Quantum computers, use qubits, described as subatomic particles such as electrons or photons. Qubits have some quirky quantum properties that mean a connected group of them can provide way more processing power than the same number of binary bits. One of those properties is known as superposition and another is called entanglement.
Now if you’re fairly new to the world of quantum computing, you’re probably asking yourself, “what the heck is superposition and entanglement?” They’re not necessarily terms we use in our everyday lives. So, let’s keep it as simple as possible. Superposition is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple places at the same time. For example, something can be “here” and “there,” or “up” and “down” at the same time. Seems impossible right? Not when dealing with particles as small as electrons and protons.
Entanglement refers to a very strong link that exists between quantum particles. The link between the two quantum particles is so strong that they’re said to be inseparably linked in perfect harmony, even when divided by great distances. Imagine if you can, two identical particles placed at opposite ends of the universe yet moving in perfect unison. Thanks to both superposition and entanglement, a quantum computer can process a massive number of calculations at once.
A Brief History of Quantum ComputingQuantum computing began in the early 1980s when physicist Paul Benioff proposed a quantum mechanical model of the Turing machine. Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin later suggested that a quantum computer had the potential to simulate things that a classical computer could not. In 1994, Peter Shor developed a quantum algorithm for factoring integers that had the potential to decrypt RSA-encrypted communications. Despite ongoing experimental progress since the late 1990s, most researchers believed that quantum computing was still a distant ambition. In recent years, investment in quantum computing research has increased in both the public and private sectors. On October 23, 2019, Google AI, in partnership with NASA, claimed to have performed a quantum computation that is infeasible on any classical computer.
Where do we stand now with quantum computing?
I guess it depends on how you look at it. Technically, quantum computers are already being used, but not of sufficient power to replace classical computers. Quantum technologies are being developed including highly effective sensors, actuators, and other devices. Quantum sensors and actuators will allow scientists to navigate the nano-scale world with remarkable precision and sensitivity. However, a true quantum computer that surpasses a standard computer is still many years away, but the quantum revolution is already happening.
Quantum Computing vs Traditional Computing
The advances that we have experienced with traditional computing over the past decades are phenomenal. However, there are challenges that today’s systems will never be able to solve. We simply don’t have enough computational power on Earth to solve problems above a certain size and complexity. All computing systems rely on a fundamental ability to store and manipulate information. Current computers manipulate individual bits, which store information as binary 0 and 1 states. Quantum computers leverage quantum mechanical phenomena to manipulate information. To do this, they rely on quantum bits or qubits.
Multiplying two large numbers is easy for any computer. Even a simple calculator can do that. But multiplying two very large numbers (in the hundreds of digits range) is considered impossible for any traditional computer. In 1994, Peter Shor, a mathematician from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discovered that if a fully working quantum computer was available, it could factor large numbers easily.
Examples of Quantum Computing Today
One of the most encouraging uses of quantum computing is for mimicking the behavior of matter down to the molecular level. Currently, automobile manufacturer Volkswagen is using quantum computing to simulate the chemical composition of electrical-vehicle batteries and finding ways to improve their performance. Pharmaceutical companies are also using quantum computing to analyze and compare compounds that could potentially lead to the discovery of new drugs. Airbus uses quantum computing to calculate the most fuel-efficient ascent and descent paths for aircraft. Some AI-focused cities are using it to calculate optimal routes for buses and taxis in cities to minimize congestion. The same theory can also be used to find the fastest route for first responders to take to an emergency. As quantum computing progresses, the uses are limitless.