The recent invention of a viable quantum computer circuit means computing power and speed may soon start increasing exponentially.
Quantum computing has been a dream of quantum physicists and sci-fi fans for decades. Even though the advancement of technology continues to move at a rapid pace, the advent of usable quantum computers has the potential to propel us forward leaps and bounds ahead of what’s currently possible.
Well that day may finally be here. Robert König, professor for the theory of complex quantum systems at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), in collaboration Sergey Bravyi of IBM and David Gosset from the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, successfully built a working quantum computer circuit. This is the first usable quantum computer that has been able to solve a problem that a conventional computer could not, showing the potential for this line of quantum development.
What is a Quantum Computer?
Let’s start by briefly touching on how conventional computers work. The speed of computers is determined in part by the number of bits it has, the smallest unit of measurement. These bits are physical microscopic points on a chip that hold a charge and represent either a 1 or a 0. Conventional computers process data by quickly running through a string of these bits one by one in a sequence.
Okay. Got that?
While quantum computers still rely on binary (1s and 0s), because of the strange world of quantum physics, each bit can be both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. These bits are called quantum bits or qubits. They are also able to harness the power of quantum entanglement to process multiple or all bits at once and send information across distances faster.
The reason will take a little explaining, so bear with me.
A Brief Overview of Quantum Computer Base Principles
Quantum mechanics is the crazy world of atoms and subatomic particles that doesn’t play by the laws of physics as we experience them. One popular example of this is the problem of Schrödinger’s cat, an example of the Copenhagen Interpretation. This is the thought experiment where there’s a cat in a box and until you open the box and observe the cat, the cat could be either alive or dead. But before you open the box the cat is both alive and dead.
Strange, but this is sort of how atomic particles work in quantum mechanics.
An experiment that proved that was conducted back in 1927 by physicists Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer. They discovered that electrons can act as both a particle and a wave via the infamous Double Slot Experiment but when you’re observing it, it only appears to be one or the other.
Another important principle for the creation of quantum computing was detailed by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen. They described the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, which in short, means that multiple particles, even across vast distances, can behave in exactly the same ways (stimuli affecting Particle A also affects the Particle B even if the stimuli is not directly acting upon Particle B). While these particles are observed as independent, they cannot be described separately and are, for all intents and purposes, the same particle.
How These Quantum Principles Enhance Computers
Remember how conventional computers process by running sequences of single bits that hold a charge (or data)? Because electrons can act the way they do, quantum computers are able to skip the sequencing and process multiple strings of data in one fell swoop. 1s and 0s can be both 1 and 0 at the same time. They’re also able transmit information far faster via entanglement. This dramatically increases the processing speed and power.
Examples of Quantum Computing in the Real World
This next level in computing has far reaching implications for everyday life. After all, most of us are addicted to the mobile computers we carry in our pockets, so any major advancement in computing such as this will undoubtedly transform how we live.
In fact, quantum computing is already starting to have an impact.
Quantum Computers and Traffic Optimization
Volskwagen and D-Wave, a quantum computing company, announced a collaboration to solve traffic optimization problems in Beijing. Using location data from about 10,000 taxis and mapping the data to quantum machinery, these companies were able to generate a solution in mere seconds.
When Volskwagen attempted the same computation on a regular server, the solution took more than half an hour.
Quantum Election Modeling
Max Henderson, a senior data scientist at QxBranch, a company specializing in quantum computing for engineering and analytics applications, used quantum machine learning to model the 2016 US presidential election. His challenge was to model problems that failed to account for correlations between states and simulate election results.
His team mapped the data to a neural network and then mapped that to a quantum computer to run calculations for every possible election model configuration. The computer produced 25,000 solutions, which were in line with FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts and pinpointed most of the states considered tipping points in the election.
Whether the beginning to a crazy new sci-fi future excites you or the mere mention of quantum computers causes you to glaze over, you can bet this development is going to transform the human race. This is just the tip of the iceberg.