Quantum Computing and Why It's Cool
Quantum Computing harnesses and takes advantage of the laws of quantum physics to process information and solve problems in ways which are impossible using classical computing. While the concept of Quantum Computing has been around for a long time, it’s only in the past few years that the technological advancements in places like IBM, MIT, the Russian Quantum Center and many other universities and startups around the world. While this all sounds great and the Quantum Computing sounds cool (it’s Quantum like the James Bond movie after all) you might be asking yourself why you should care about it. Isn’t it something for big companies, researches and other people? Well the answer is yes for now and no fairly soon. Quantum Computing has the ability to drastically change the way we understand, do and create things just to name a few.
Now I’m going to be discussing Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Computing and the main terms and concepts in a very approachable and non-math format. This way you will understand the what, the why and the how of Quantum Computing whether you're a physicists or someone reading about Quantum topics for the first time. I’ll attach more resources later for those of you wishing to go more in depth in the technical details and provide you some resources for you to actually play with a Quantum Computer via the internet.
The best way to understand the relevance of Quantum Computing is to: Understand the Core Drivers, Primary Applications, and wrap up with How It Works with the main difference between Classical Computing and Quantum Computing. These main components will give all the information you need to have a solid understanding of Quantum Computing.
Why Do We Need Quantum Computers?
We need Quantum Computers for two primary reasons. First, the classical computers we use today are reaching the physical limits of their computing power since the transistors which are used to operate the hardware are reaching the physical limits of miniaturizing. Currently the transistors in the classical computers being produced today are 14 nanometers which is the maximum degree to which a transistor can be miniaturized. Any further miniaturization and the transistors will be the same size as an atom and there is a serious risk of falling into the quantum field without having designed the system to handle it. This limit in miniaturization has also brought an end to Moore's law which dictated that the number of transistors on a square inch would double roughly every 2 years. This law has remained intact since 1965 till 2017 when it reached its end. Right now you can fit over 100 million 14 nm transistors on the head of a pin and over 6 million transistors on the period at the end of this sentence. Yeah, 6 million right there. The only way to get around the issue of miniaturization is to create computer systems that can handle smaller transistors or components at a subatomic level and this is where the Quantum Computers came in.
The other main driver for the development of Quantum Computers have been the need to develop systems that have the capacity to process, calculate, simulate and handle massive amounts of data that are intractable using Classical Computers. We tend to focus a lot on all the things computers do great and ignore all the things that computers do horribly or cannot do at all, which you might be surprised to find out is quite a lot. Classical Computers have difficulties optimizing, handling large number factors, modeling anything other than the simplest and smallest molecules which is actually a big deal since it limits the abilities of researches to discover new medicines and treatments for innumerable diseases. Currently even the best super computers on the planet would take hundreds if not thousands of years to solve things that would take a Quantum Computers seconds or minutes to compute. A reduction in processing time like this would have the ability to revolutionize numerous research and business fields in ways that we cannot even imagine because the technology didn't exist before.
What Can We Use Quantum Computing For?
So now that we understand why we need it and the limitations of Classical Computing for many things, the natural question is so what? How will this impact my daily life, job, etc. Quantum Computers will have impacts on the majority of industries in the following ways:
- Optimization - optimizing routes for deliveries, gps routing, traffic routing for self driving car, process optimization, etc. For example, there are 3.6 million ways to arrange 10 people at a table, Quantum Computing will show you which is the best configuration in a matter of seconds.
- Advanced Modeling + Simulations - modeling larger molecules (chemistry), theoretical systems (physics) and other systems that require complex models with large factors/numbers.
- Cryptography + Security - the cryptography we use to secure the everything from the internet browsers security, to your credit card transactions, to encrypted communications all rely on factoring large numbers to create keys that would take decades or centuries to break using Classical Computers. The development of Quantum Computers renders these keys useless for security purposes as they can crack these keys in a matter of minutes.
- Quantum Cryptography + Security - new forms of quantum cryptography and security will be deployed to secure the data, transactions, communications and general infrastructure.
- Portfolio + Risk Optimization - Quantum Computers can optimize and manage risk more efficiently in financial portfolios.
- Big Data Management + Search - with the power to understand complex data sets and make correlations between pieces of data instantaneously.
Essentially, what Quantum Computers does well is that it allows us to test/process all the possible scenarios at once (super fast) as compared to the Classical method which would test each process one-by-one in sequence. As the numbers get bigger you can easily see how Classical Computers would just take too long to produce viable results in a reasonable amount of time.
Will Quantum Computers Replace Classical Computers?
No. Classical Computers will likely always be in our lives to help us with our basic tasks. Things like word processing, graphic design, web browsing and other simple tasks would never need a Quantum system. There is a possibility that some other invention makes the Classical Computer obsolete but it won't be Quantum systems that do it. Classical and Quantum systems will have a much more complementary relationship as Classical Computers will handle all of the basic computing needs while Quantum Computers will handle the higher end and more complex tasks.
How Does Quantum Computing Work
Even though Quantum Computing sounds complicated (which it can be) it's actually rather simple to understand. Once you understand some of the basic principles of Quantum Mechanics and how they relate to computing you'll be set. Not to mention I've added a quick 7-minute video to assist you in learning about how Quantum Computing works.
Here are the core terms that you should know:
- Qubit - is the quantum version of a bit. Where classical bits can be only 1 or 0, qubits can store any range of values between 0 and 1 as well as being two or more values at the same time in a quantum state of superposition.
- Superposition - is a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics which allows for two or more values to maintained at the same time.
- Entanglement - is when two or more qubits are dependent on each other. If a change occurs with one qubit a simultaneous chance will happen with the entangled qubit.
- Quantum Supremacy - this will occur when quantum computers are able to solve problems which classical computers cannot practically solve.
Parallel or Simultaneous Processing is the key concept that helps people to understand the benefits of quantum computers. Classical computers compute and process things much the same way we do as humans. If there are 10, 100 or 1000 different things we have to do, we will do it in a simple and methodical way where we handle each process one at a time before moving on to the next one. The more things there are to do the longer it would take to complete any complex task. Quantum computers are able to compute all the processes (10, 100, 1000, 1,000,000 etc.) at the same time. We we start to move into the billion, trillions, quadrillions and beyond the benefits of quantum computers become apparent quickly as even the best super computers based on the classical computing methods would be too slow to compute data sets, problems, etc. within our lifetime.