Are we ready for the next big revolution in the computational world?
Quantum Computing is slowly becoming a focal point of interest among the researchers and technology enthusiasts. This enticing technology promises to be an advanced version of the standard computers we use today. Unlike the binary encoding system of a conventional computer, quantum computer is powered by superposition and entanglement. Also, developments in quantum computing translate to advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. These can lead us to breakthroughs in drug discovery, cybersecurity, cryptography, robotics, and banking. A report by McKinsey & Partner, predicts the field of quantum computing technology to have a global market value of US$1 trillion by 2035.
What is Quantum Computing?
In scientific parlance, quantum computing is a subfield of quantum information science. This form of computing is focused on developing computer technology based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the behavior of energy and material on the atomic and subatomic levels. It enables to process massive and complex datasets more efficiently than classical computers, which rely on transistors and microchips.
How does it work?
Quantum systems use qubits (quantum bits) as basic units for processing information. Unlike binary values that can either be 0 or 1, a qubit is not confined to a two-state solution, but can also exist in superposition. This means qubits can be employed at 0, 1, and both 1 and 0 at the same time. Therefore, it can perform many calculations in parallel owing to the ability to pursue simultaneous probabilities through superposition along with manipulating them with magnetic fields. Also, because of this, quantum computers can perform exceptionally complex tasks at supersonic velocities.
Another interesting aspect of qubits is that the superpositions can be entangled with those of others via pairing, meaning their outcomes will be mathematically related even if we don’t know yet what they are. So, changing the state of one of the qubits will instantaneously change the state of the other one predictably. This can empower companies to have instant communication relays.
Key challenges in developing a Quantum Computer
Superposition and entanglement are impressive physical phenomena, but leveraging them to do the computation, generating and managing qubits is a scientific and engineering challenge. Several companies, like IBM, Google, and Rigetti Computing, use superconducting circuits cooled to temperatures colder than deep space. For instance, in the case of IBM’s Quantum One, it is cooled to .015 degrees Kelvin. Others, like IonQ, trap individual atoms in electromagnetic fields on a silicon chip in ultra-high-vacuum chambers. In both cases, the goal is to isolate the qubits in a controlled quantum state.
Another challenge is they need to be run many times, as current qubit implementations have a high error rate. When it comes to hardware implementation, entanglement isn’t easy to achieve. In many designs, only some of the qubits are entangled, so the compiler needs to be smart enough to swap bits around as necessary to help simulate a system where all the bits can potentially be entangled.
Once we overcome the hurdles in developing and designing a quantum computer, we are left with endless possibilities that these systems can offer. In manufacturing, automobile leaders, Volkswagen, and Daimler are using quantum computers to simulate the chemical composition of electrical-vehicle batteries to help find new ways to improve their performance.
In banking, JP Morgan is exploring the utilization of quantum computing in option pricing. The bank believes that quantum computing has the capability to curtail expenses and accelerate the number of simulations essential to compute the exact option price. In the pharmaceutical sector, companies are leveraging them to analyze and compare compounds that could lead to the creation of new drugs. This is receiving massive uptick due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, quantum computing gave birth to a better crypto-security system called quantum encryption. The quantum encryption involves sending entangled particles of light (entangled photons) over long distances in what is known as Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) to secure sensitive communications. Moreover, it is speculated that the RSA and ECC cryptographic algorithms can be broken down by quantum computing in the future.
Using quantum annealing (a type of quantum computing), one can improve the logistics industry in terms of calculation of optimal routes of traffic management, fleet operations, air traffic control, and freight distribution. Further, quantum computing can improve the accuracy of weather forecasting. Director of engineering at Google Hartmut Neven says that quantum computers could help build better climate models that could give us more insight into how humans are influencing the environment. These models also help in determining what steps must be taken to prevent disasters.