It seems the physics education I slept through in college could now be used to build the next generation of super-powerful computers, machines that process problems so fast they’re going to make our current devices look like Casio wristwatches from the early 1980s.
Most people have no clue that quantum computing exists. Even fewer know how it works.
But once you understand it, and its vast processing power, you’ll understand that this new Digital Age we’re currently in has barely scratched the surface of the potential computers have.
Simply put, today’s computers rely electrons — electricity — flying around on circuits to deliver information in “bits,” or yes/no, 1/0 chunks.
Quantum computing relies on natural properties of the tiny subatomic particles that make up everything in the universe to do number-crunching at magnitudes far greater than a machine using bits ever could.
Here’s how quantum computing company D-Wave explains it:
The laws of quantum physics, which govern the microscopic world, allow bits of matter to be in two states simultaneously.
All modern-day computing relies on the ultra-fast manipulation of billions of bits of information.
Quantum computing combines these two ideas, allowing us to put bits of information into their 0 and 1 states at the same time. This process allows quantum computers to consider and manipulate all combinations of bits simultaneously, making quantum computation powerful and fast.
To condense it to a soundbite, a quantum computer has more “tools” to solve a problem. Conventional PCs speak the usual binary language, but quantum computers speak a much more richly detailed quantum language, understanding the world by interacting with qubits (quantum bits).
Qubits are more versatile than standard bits because they can exist in three states instead of two. Your computer can only represent things as a one or zero, but a quantum computer can render a qubit as representing a one, a zero, or every fraction between one and zero all at once. Quantum physics deals often with uncertainty, and this is how quantum computers mathematically interact with the idea.
Though it does so very quickly, your personal computer can only solve one problem at a time. But because quantum computers have access to this “superpositional” state, they’re more efficient, solving difficult problems very quickly and doing more than one calculation at a time.
A 30-qubit quantum computer is approximately as powerful as a 10 teraflop computer, solving 10 trillion problems every second. Most average home computers push about seven gigaflops, calculating seven billion problems per second. There’s no comparison.
So when do we get quantum computers in our living rooms? Not any time soon. This technology is still pretty new and the applications are pretty specific.
There are some real world applications already in use, however. They could make internet searches much quicker, so it’s no wonder that Google recently bought one. NASA will be using a quantum computer to further develop artificial intelligence technology. The previously-mentioned D-Wave just sold a 128-qubit computer to Lockheed-Martin.
So the technology clearly has people’s attention. Let’s see where it goes.
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