Technology 5 min read

11 Facts That Help Explain the Quantum Computer

Understanding key facts of quantum physics and how it's applied to the quantum computer can make the world seem less complicated--here are 11 basics ones.

Sakkmesterke | Shutterstock.com

Sakkmesterke | Shutterstock.com

What’s the problem with classic computers and why do we need quantum computers?

Unfortunately, as powerful as they can get, conventional computers can’t solve all the problems we need to solve. This may not be as apparent to you and me, but it is to researchers who face a growing complexity of calculations that their computers can’t keep up with.

To make silicon-based classical computers more powerful, there must be a constant increase in their memory to store more information and of the number of transistors to boost their processing power.

The computing power of processors (based on transistors) has allowed an unprecedented technological and economic boom. Today, smartphones are equipped with processors more powerful than personal computers from a decade ago.

But we cannot go down the miniaturization road forever–the blessed time of Moore’s Law is coming to an end.

In the coming years, the silicon industry will continue expanding computer processing power. New techniques may help further reduce the size of the transistors, but whatever happens, size-speaking, transistors can’t get smaller than an atom.

But, with quantum computers, the processing power can span the atomic scale and even exist in multiple places at once. It’s a mind-boggling reality we live in, and if the quantum computer confuses you as much as it does me, consider these facts to help expand your understanding.

1. Atoms vs Silicon Transistors

While conventional computers rely on a huge number of transistors to achieve the highest computing speed possible, quantum computers use atoms and subatomic particles as their physical system.

So far, scientists have used different microscopic particles (such as ions, electrons, and photons) as a medium for qubits.

2. Quantum Bits (qubits)

All the information that your computer processes is coded in a binary system made up of 0s and 1s, or what we call bits. The page you are reading now is stored in bits converted by your computer’s processor into text and images.

Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits, which demonstrate a specific and very useful property: superposition.

3. Superposition

Unlike bits, qubits can take several values at the same time. This allows a quantum computer to process much more information, much faster.

This is called superposition, the same phenomenon that leads Schrödinger’s cat to be at two places simultaneously.

4. Calculation Speed

This strange superposition phenomenon gives quantum processors extreme speed capabilities. A quantum computer could solve calculations that would take a conventional supercomputer thousands or millions of years in a matter of seconds.

And recently, researchers showed that a quantum computers’ speed may have fewer limits than previously thought.

5. Quantum Supremacy

Quantum supremacy refers to the number of qubits beyond which classical supercomputers can’t keep up with their quantum counterparts.

Current supercomputers can perform as well as a quantum computer in the range of 20 qubits and below, but from 50 qubits on, quantum computers gain supremacy.

Check out these 11 companies poised to lead the quantum computing revolution. Google and IBM are our favorite big players. IBM even has a publicly accessible quantum computer that you can play around with in your free time.

6. Data Security

One of the first practical applications of quantum computers will be cryptography.

Quantum cryptography, or Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), is a set of protocols for distributing an encryption key between two remote points.

Promising a new era in communications, quantum cryptography potential has already been shown. Recently, Chinese researchers accomplished the first demonstration of QKD at work, transmitting an unhackable coded message over 1200 km, thanks to quantum entanglement.

7. Power Savings

Traditional silicon-based servers pose environmental problems because they require more and more energy to create, assemble, and power.

Quantum processors could drastically lower power consumption, by a factor of 100 to 1000, thanks to their design.

8. Quantum Algorithms

Although quantum computers can run conventional algorithms, the results wouldn’t be as efficient as when using specialized quantum algorithms.

As a theory, quantum algorithms have been the subject of research for over two decades. Currently, there are several programs dedicated to quantum computers, such as Shor and Grover.

9. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

Humanity produces over 2.5 Exabytes of data per day — the equivalent of 250,000 Libraries of Congress or 5 million laptops… Big Data is growing in complexity and volume faster than computing resources.

AI, especially machine learning, relies on big sets of data for training but could also benefit from quantum computing to exponentially boost their learning process.

Quantum technology could reduce the time needed for some tasks from hundreds of thousands of years to just a few seconds

10. It’s Hard to Build Quantum Computers

Building quantum circuits is a very delicate process because qubits are unstable and fragile. They require a highly controlled environment that’s almost totally isolated from the outside world to avoid any interference.

To keep atoms stable, the D-Wave 2000Q (the world’s most advanced, however limited) quantum processor is chilled to temperatures 180 times colder than interstellar space (-460 degrees Fahrenheit).

11. Quantum Computers Won’t Replace our Computers

Quantum computers are so complex that they are not intended for the general public. They are useful for very specific research purposes and industrial applications. They’ll be used to run extremely complex simulations such as a rendering of the Earth’s total climatic function.

More than that, however, classical computers perform better than quantum ones in some simple tasks. To browse the Internet, for example, classic bits are more than enough.

Read More: Why the Time of Quantum Computing is Now

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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    Lisa Gaillard April 13 at 6:40 am GMT

    Wow, It feels like watching a sci-fi movie. Building a quantum computer will certainly change the world.

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