i3 | May 29, 2020

Quantum Computing

Murray Slovick

Occasionally, a technology promises advances on an extraordinary level. Referring to a golf analogy, one might say quantum computing is on the green and rolling in a straight, true line for the hole.

Researchers claim quantum computers could spur breakthroughs in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), better simulate what drugs could do in the human body, discover new structures and materials, improve financial risk analysis strategies and create tamper-proof cybersecurity measures. These advances, often impossible with classical computing, are within reach because computing time is reduced from years to minutes and seconds.

What You Need to Know

Quantum mechanics is the science dealing with the behavior of matter and light on an atomic and subatomic scale. In quantum computing, a qubit is a unit of information, a parallel to the conventional bit as the smallest unit of data. It can be set to one of two states — 0 or 1 — but unlike a bit or a semiconductor gate it’s not as simple as being on or off. Three quantum mechanical properties — superposition, entanglement and interference — can manipulate the state of a qubit.

Superposition allows a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time. A qubit can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously, until the time it is observed or measured. Unfortunately, once a superposition state meets with a measuring system it loses its in-between state in what's known as decoherence and becomes a classical bit reverting to either 1 or 0. Thus, building a quantum computer requires holding an object in a superposition state long enough to carry out various processes.

Superposition allows quantum computers to consider many variables instantaneously. Interference enables a quantum computer to combine its multiple calculations and probabilities into one answer.

Spooky Action

An important use of quantum entanglement is teleportation. Here, the state of one qubit is destroyed in one place and resurrected in another. Entanglement behaves like there is communication between the qubits over a distance. It’s not quite “two qubits to beam me up, Scotty” but even Einstein couldn’t fully come to grips with how the measurement of one particle will instantly influence another particle, regardless of how far apart they are. Einstein described quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.”

Big tech companies like Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft are working on quantum computers. At CES 2020, IBM hosted a Quantum Tech SuperSession with Daimler AG and ExxonMobil executives discussing how it will radically change the world. IBM’s Q Network now tops 100 organizations working toward business and science applications.

Quantum computing may help solve some of the world’s most complex challenges via systems that exceed our most powerful supercomputers. Some problems that IBM is working on include:

  • Polymers that could replace steel-based components.
  • Antibiotics to counter multi-drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Electrolytes for lithium-air batteries for electric airplanes.

IBM is on the front lines of quantum computing

IBM’s device is a 20-qubit quantum computer enclosed in an airtight glass case, where qubits are stable enough to perform continuous commercial quantum computations. Potential applications include:

  • Disease control. The coronavirus outbreak could not have been curbed yet. But quantum computing will help scientists confront future health crises.
  • Cloud computing. Google plans to offer commercial cloud computing on its quantum computer to process complicated problems and provide results to individual users.
  • Cryptography. Microsoft Research is exploring quantum cryptography to potentially change data security.

However, it will be decades before consumers can purchase their own quantum computer. That said, the quantum computing market is projected to grow solidly through the next decade. According to Tractica’s global market forecast, total enterprise quantum computing market revenue will reach $9.1 billion annually by 2030.

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