What is Quantum Computing? | Live Science

Quantum computing is a new generation of technology that involves a type of computer 158 million times faster than the most sophisticated supercomputer we have in the world today. It’s a device so powerful it could do in four minutes what it would take a traditional supercomputer 10,000 years to accomplish.

For decades our computers were all built around the same design. Whether it’s NASA’s huge machines or your portable at home, they’re just glorified calculators, but more importantly, they can only do one thing at a time.

The key to the functioning of all computers is that they process and store information consisting of binary digits called bits. These bits have only two possible values, a one or a zero. It’s these numbers that create the binary code, which a computer must read to perform a specific task, according to the book. Computer Basics.

What is Quantum Computing?

Quantum theory is a branch of physics that deals with the small world of atoms and the smallest (subatomic) particles inside, according to the journal Documenta Mathematica. When you dive into this tiny world, the laws of physics are very different from what we see around us. For example, quantum particles can exist in multiple states at the same time. this is called layering.

Instead of bits, quantum computers use something called quantum bits, “qubits” for short. While a traditional bit can only be a one or a zero, a qubit can be a one, a zero or both at the same time, according to an article published by IEEE International Conference on Big Data.

This means that a quantum computer doesn’t have to wait for one process to complete before it can start another, it can do them all at the same time.

Imagine you had lots of doors that were all locked except one, and you needed to know which one was open. A traditional computer would keep trying each door, one after another, until it found the one that was unlocked. It could take five minutes, it could take a million years, depending on how many gates there were. But a quantum computer could try all the doors at once. This is what makes them much faster.

In addition to superposition, quantum particles also exhibit another strange behavior called tangle which also makes this technology so potentially revolutionary. When two quantum particles are entangled, they form a connection to each other, regardless of their distance. When you change one, the other reacts the same way, even though they are thousands of miles apart. Einstein called this property of particles “spooky action at a distance”, according to the newspaper Nature.

Entangled quantum particles

Entangled quantum particles mimic each other’s behavior, even though they are thousands of miles apart. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Design limits

In addition to speed, another advantage of quantum computers over traditional computers is size. According to Moore’s lawcomputing power doubles approximately every two years, according to the review IEEE Annals of Computing History. But to allow this, engineers have to adapt more and more transistors on a printed circuit. A transistor is like a microscopic light switch that can be turned on or off. This is how a computer treats a zero or a one that you find in binary code.

To solve more complex problems, you need more of these transistors. But no matter how hard you make them, there are only so many you can fit on a PCB. So what does this mean? This means that sooner or later traditional computers will be as smart as possible, depending on the Journal of Young Scientists. This is where quantum machines can change things.

The quest to build quantum computers has turned into something of a world racewith some of the biggest corporations and even governments on the planet vying to push the technology ever further, causing interest in quantum computing stocks to surge in the currency markets.

An example is the device created by D-Wave. He built the Advantage system which he says is the first and only quantum computer designed for professional use, according to a Press release of the society.

D-Wave dilution refrigerators

An engineer works on the D-Wave dilution refrigeration system. (Image credit: D-Wave)

D-wave said it was designed with a new processor architecture with over 5,000 qubits and 15-lane qubit connectivitywhich she believes enables companies to solve their biggest and most complex business problems.

The company says the machine is the first and only quantum computer that allows customers to develop and run real quantum applications in production at scale in the cloud. The company said the Advantage is 30 times faster and delivers equal or better solutions 94% of the time compared to its previous generation system.

But despite the huge theoretical computing power of quantum computers, there’s still no need to throw your old laptop in the trash. Conventional computers will always have a role to play in any new era and are much better suited to everyday tasks such as spreadsheets, emails and word processing, according to Quantum Computing Inc. (QCI).

Where quantum computing could really bring about radical changes is in predictive analytics. Because a quantum computer can do analysis and predictions at breakneck speeds, it would be able to predict weather situation and do traffic modeling, things where there are millions, maybe billions of variables that are constantly changing.

Inside D-Wave

Why do we need quantum computing?

Standard computers can do what they are told quite well if powered by a human with the right computer program. But when it comes to predicting things, they’re not that smart. This is why the weather forecast is not always accurate. There are too many variables, too many things changing too quickly for a conventional computer to keep up.

Due to their limitations, there are calculations that an ordinary computer may never be able to solve, or it may take literally a billion years. Not very useful if you need a quick prediction or analysis.

But a quantum computer is so fast, almost infinitely, that it could react quickly to changing information and examine an unlimited number of outcomes and permutations simultaneously, according to research by Computing Rigetti.

Quantum computers are also relatively small because they don’t rely on transistors like traditional machines. They also consume relatively less powermeaning they could in theory be better for the environment.

Additional Resources

You can read about how to get started in quantum computing in this article by Nature. To learn more about the future of quantum computing, you can watch this TED talk by PhD student Jason Ball.


Sherry J. Basler