Quantum computing: the most transformational tech of all
What is quantum computing?
And what makes quantum computing applications different from ‘classical’ digital computing?
As you’re probably already aware, conventional systems use a binary computer code, represented as 1 or 0.
This is based on transistors that can only store information in two electrical states, On or Off.
These are the binary digits, or ‘bits’, of conventional computing.
It’s these binary bits that limit the kind of task regular computers can perform, and the speed at which they can do those tasks.
Quantum computing is based around the strange qualities and behaviour of subatomic particles.
The quantum meaning of entanglement and superposition
Defying previously accepted laws of the physical world, subatomic particles can exist in two places, or two states, at the same time.
This is called ‘superposition’.
Even distantly separated particles can share information instantaneously, faster than the speed of light.
This is ‘entanglement’.
This means that, unlike bits, qubits – the basis for quantum computers – can exist in multiple states simultaneously.
Transcending the 1 or 0 binary limitation, they have the potential to process exponential amounts of information.
Qubits – going beyond binary
A quantum machine with just a couple of qubits can process as much information as a classical 512-bit computer.
Due to the exponential nature of the platform, the dynamic changes very quickly.
Assuming perfect stability, 300 qubits could represent more data values than there are atoms in the observable universe.
This opens the opportunity to solve highly complex problems that are well beyond the reach of any conventional computer.
What is quantum computing used for presently?
In 2016, IBM made a quantum computer available to the public by connecting it to the cloud, enabling outside researchers and developers to explore its possibilities.
And in September 2019, IBM’s Quantum Computation Center opened.
This comprises a fleet of 15 systems including the most advanced quantum computer yet available for external use.
Despite these progressive steps, it’s still generally accepted that the most important quantum applications are years away.
One reason is the fickleness of subatomic matter.
As qubits are extremely delicate, even a small disturbance knocks particles out of a quantum state.
That’s why quantum computers are kept at temperatures slightly above absolute zero, colder than outer space, since matter becomes effectively more stable the colder it gets.
Even at that temperature, qubit particles typically remain in superposition for only fractions of a second.
Figuring out how to keep qubits in a prolonged state of superpostition is a major challenge that scientists still need to overcome.
The search is on for ‘logical qubits’ that can maintain the essential quantum state for longer.
The path to fulfilling Quantum’s promise
How will the arrival of the Quantum Age impact the number, categories and quality of jobs in the decades to come?
Although it’s not possible right now to predict just how big an industry quantum computing will eventually be, the industry is already suffering from a major skills gap, leaving quantum computing companies struggling to find qualified recruits.
The practical training of the sort made possible by IBM’s increasingly large collaborative effort, the Q Network, will be crucial to a long-term solution.
This is why IBM’s previously mentioned Quantum Computation Center offers IBM clients, academic institutions, and more than 200,000 registered users access to this cutting-edge technology.
A similarly innovative-minded community is rapidly growing around Qiskit, IBM’s open-source development platform for quantum computing.
Educational tools such as the ‘Coding With Qiskit’ video series has already generated more than 1.5 million impressions, as well as over 10,000 hours of content consumed by users.
There are also open source textbooks, written by experts in the field including several from IBM Research, as well as professors who have utilised some of the material in their own university courses.
IBM Q Network partners include ExxonMobil, Daimler, JPMorgan Chase, Anthem, Delta Airlines, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Georgia Tech University, Keio University, Stanford University’s Q-Farm program, and Mitsubishi Chemical, among dozens of others.
Last year IBM announced partnerships with the University of Tokyo and the German research company Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, greatly expanding the company’s already broad network of quantum researchers globally.
Through these efforts, IBM and others are exploring the ways quantum computing can address their most complicated problems, while training a workforce to use this technology.
Quantum computing applications
Once the challenges facing the full introduction of quantum computing are met, what kind of problems can we expect quantum computers to solve?
Some promising applications stand out. Explore more in this video from Katie Pizzolato, Director at IBM Quantum Partners Research.
Along with hyper-accurate long-term weather forecasting, new synthetic carbon-capturing materials could help reverse climate change caused by fossil fuels.
By observing the way each carbon atom’s eight orbiting electrons might interact with the electrons of an almost infinite variety of other molecules, researchers hope to discover the optimum combination for binding carbon.
Long-lasting batteries to store green energy
Quantum computing could be utilised to effectively peer inside a batteries’ chemical reactions, leading to a better understanding of the materials and reactions that result in a more effective electrical storage.
New insights into chemistry
Due to the infinitely complex ways in which atoms interact with each other, almost all chemistry breakthroughs have come about through accident, intuition, or exhausting numbers of experiments.
Quantum computing could make this work faster and more methodical, leading to new discoveries in energy, materials, life-saving drugs, and other fields.
When balancing portfolios and pricing options, the processing of a large number of continually changing variables is complex and time intensive.
Quantum computing should enable the required calculations to be performed in a matter of minutes, meaning derivatives could be bought and sold in near real time.
It may all read like an ambitious wish list.
But many scientists predict that the emerging era of quantum computing could lead to breakthroughs like these, while also tackling other major problems that are beyond the reach of current computing.
Keeping tabs on quantum computing news
Quantum computing is not a new idea.
But it’s only been in recent years that a workable technology has begun to catch up with the theory.
According to Gartner, “by 2023, 20% of organisations will be budgeting for quantum computing projects, up from less than 1% in 2018.”
Would you like to keep up with the very latest developments in quantum computing news?
The history of computing tells us that creative people around the world will find uses for these systems that no one could have predicted.