Quantum is a powerful buzzword these days. Quantum computers have so much hype behind them that marketing teams have started adding the word to ordinary objects in an attempt to make them sound more powerful. Despite the frenzy, there’s a reason for excitement around quantum computers. While they are far from being perfect, they do exist in the world today, and you need to get a grasp on them to stay above water as this technology shatters everything we know about computers.
This crash course can help.
How it Works
Most people have at least a basic understanding of how quantum computers work. While they sound mysterious and interesting, they draw their power by their ability to exploit principles of quantum physics. This is exactly correct. More specifically, these computers utilize superposition and entanglement to improve raw computational power.
The principle of superposition is, ironically, both easy and difficult to understand.
On the simple level, particles in a state of superposition can be described by conflicting truths at the same time. The easiest example is that a photon or electron can actually be in two places at once. At least superficially, that’s an easy idea. How a particle can do this is such a challenging idea that no one on the planet can fully explain it.
Even cursory explanations on the topic are beyond the scope of this post, so we’ll just leave at this: we know they can because they’ve seen it.
As far as computers are concerned, superposition allows engineers to design systems that use more than the traditional 0 or 1 binary system. A superposition of 0 and 1 creates a third state for a ternary computer. It’s pretty obvious how this makes a more powerful computer.
But, that’s only the beginning of what has researchers excited about quantum computing. The second principle, entanglement, takes the advantages of superposition and multiplies them. Dramatically.
Entanglement is the concept that Albert Einstein famously described as “spooky.” When particles are entangled, they share properties -- even when separated across meaningful distances. This all gets pretty complicated, but for computers, it means that each particle used to store information contains data not only of its own state but also of its interactions with other entangled particles.
Let’s clarify. Traditional computers store information in bits. A quantum computer uses qubits instead. The difference between a bit and a qubit is that a bit only has it's 1 or 0. A qubit has it's 1, 0 or 2, and it contains information related to every other qubit in the system. So, every time you add a qubit, you increase the capacity of the computer exponentially.
To put this in perspective, a 300-qubit computer would contain more information than there are atoms in the universe. Compare that to a terabit (trillion-bit) storage drive on a traditional computer and the advantages become extreme.
One more way to really bring this into scope is to talk about what Google has defined as “quantum supremacy.” They use this term to refer to a quantum computer that is so powerful it clearly outperforms the raw computing power of any traditional computer around today. Keep in mind that this includes supercomputers. Google claims that quantum supremacy can be achieved with a 49-qubit computer.
Where Is it Today?
So, the obvious question leads us to wonder how close we are to practical quantum computers. Well, for starters, IBM announced that they had a functioning 50-qubit computer at the end of 2017. This shattered expectations.
Before you worry that all of your systems are obsolete, you should know that IBM’s computer is highly unstable. It can only maintain states for a matter of microseconds. So, while it is the most powerful announced quantum computer at the time of this writing, it’s not quite practical yet.
In the practical world, the most powerful quantum computer is a 20-qubit system. It’s also owned by IBM, and they allow limited access to it via their cloud services. It doesn’t yet make traditional computers obsolete, but it does offer engineers a chance to work with quantum systems to refine software approaches and build on practical experience.
In short, you do not need to rush out and by a quantum computer right this minute. Instead, you need to start building a quantum computer plan. When accessibility increases, which is only a matter of time, every industry will have to make the switch. Big data is already transforming how we think about business and efficiency.
The overwhelming power of quantum computation will be an irresistible draw.
Ultimately, this inevitability stems from encryption applications. Quantum computers hold the potential to completely revolutionize digital security. They’ll eventually be able to crack soft encryptions, and they’ll offer robust security measures that dwarf anything available today.
To bring all of this into focus, you can expect at least limit cloud access to “quantum supremacy” level devices within five years. Pricing and accessibility are still tough to predict, but most businesses should already think about carving some budget space to stay ahead of the game.
The good news is that the raw power of these computers will enable providers to host security for huge numbers of subscribers. It is businesses that are desperately looking for advanced applications that will take a harder hit to their expenses. You already know if you fall into that category, so the rest of you can rest easy.
About the Author: Chantel Soumis
Chantel Soumis brings over a decade of knowledge in workflow enhancement through the use of technology. Chantel studied marketing communications and business administration at Franklin University and proceeded to work in a fast, ambitious environment, assuring client delight in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Passionate about project productivity and streamlining workflows through the use of technology, Chantel strives to inform organizations of Valicom’s advanced telecom expense management software and services by mastering communications and messaging while delivering helpful information and supporting resources.