What is a Quantum Computer?
I am writing about Quantum Computing now, because I see the beginning of something big that will impact all our lives soon. I had the same premonition about PCs when I got my first Osborne Computer in 1981 and was on the Internet before there was ever a web browser or a Yahoo or Google. So let’s explore what Quantum Computers are, what they can do and what they could mean for you and me.
First, Quantum Computers are here now and can solve problems and anticipate outcomes up to a thousand times faster than traditional computers. Here’s the techy definition, but keep reading:
“quan·tum com·put·er, noun
plural noun: quantum computers
1. a computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.”
But what the heck does this mean? Bits vs. Qubits. The simple explanation is that Quantum Computers use a whole different paradigm for achieving results at lightning speed. On the one hand, the fundamental building blocks of traditional computer code are 1’s and 0’s – BITS. So their state is either ON – a 1 or OFF – a 0. Consequently, traditional computers solve problems in a sequential way: if A then B then C . . . So their speed is based on how fast they can do these sequential calculations. There are things like parallel processing that allow these machines to walk and chew gum at the same time, but it’s still walking.
On the other hand Quantum Computers (“QCs”) can see 1’s and 0’s at the same time! QUBITS. So instead of solving a problem sequentially, QCs can simultaneously attack a problem from multiple different directions. You can get way deeper into how it works, but this gives you the basics.
Why Do We Care About Quantum Speed?
Quantum Speed means we can solve really complex problems fast enough to matter. For example, take the example of the emerging technology of self-driving cars. Volkswagon and D-Wave Systems, one of the first commercially available QC systems, successfully tested optimizing the routes of 10,000 taxis in Beijing
simultaneously to reduce traffic congestion. Unless you can do this fast in realtime, the information becomes useless. If you’re in a taxi, it needs to know to take the next left before it reaches the intersection and traditional computers, even supercomputers, may not be fast enough to do that.
This kind of QC computing power can handle other kinds of very complex data-intensive problems, like predicting weather patterns, catching terrorist needles in a global haystack, cracking encryption, predicting financial trends, space exploration, genetic research and more.
What Does The Quantum Computing Future Look Like?
Besides attacking and solving the big data, complex problems mentioned, QC gets really interesting when combined with Artificial Intelligence
(“AI”). I mean how does a traditional computer, IBM’s Deep Blue, beat the world champion chess player at chess, or Google’s AlphaGo, beat the world champion at the game of GO? The programmer who wrote the code for these machines is not a better chess or GO player. The only way these AI machines exceed the most skilled humans is by Learning
. And by learning
, just like the Beijing taxis, the machine must recognize patterns, optimize, and return results fast.
Finally, remember when computers, that were less powerful then your cellphone, filled large air-conditioned rooms? Certainly one of the obstacles with QC is that the machines rely on superconductivity. That means to move electrons at super high-speeds, the QC is housed inside a refrigerator set to less than one degree above Absolute Zero (-273 degrees Fahrenheit!). But who knows? Maybe we’ll be carrying Quantum Computers in our pockets one day too. That be years off, but why, in the very near future, couldn’t your current cellphone connect to a Quantum Computer? You send it the problem, it crunches the numbers at quantum speed, and sends you the answer instantly. Cool, eh?
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Until then, my self-driving car is waiting . . . .
For more articles and video, here are a few interesting links: