Science 4 min read

Quantum Infrastructure Part 2: How Close are we to Quantum Devices?

In this part 2 of a series on quantum infrastructure, we give a brief overview of quantum devices. First, we talk about the everyday devices that already leverage quantum mechanics. Second, we'll talk about the state of quantum computers, processors, and sensors.

Quantum devices aren't as esoteric as this image would imply. In fact, they're quite common. | Dmitriy Rybin | Shutterstock.com

Quantum devices aren't as esoteric as this image would imply. In fact, they're quite common. | Dmitriy Rybin | Shutterstock.com

Quantum Infrastructure Table of Contents:

  1. How Close are we to Quantum Infrastructure? An Introduction
  2. How Close are we to Quantum Internet?
  3. How Close are we to Quantum Devices?
  4. Quantum Key Distribution is the end of Malware?

Backed up by decades of theory, quantum physics has helped shape modern life as we know it. Until quantum computers and devices become a more tangible reality, we’ll have to continue realizing how devices we’ve already built interact on the quantum level.

This is part 2 of a series on quantum infrastructure.

Within the quantum field theory framework, scientists came up with peculiar laws of physics to describe the peculiar behavior and properties of matter at the atomic and subatomic levels.

Principles of quantum physics (such as entanglement, superposition, and uncertainty) are pretty arcane stuff that even insiders don’t grasp firmly.

Those who think they understand quantum mechanics often do not according to ResearchGate.

Oftentimes when the quantum theory is evoked, the emphasis is put on hard-to-imagine concepts that take an intimate understanding of mathematics and physical properties of matter to comprehend.

On close inspection, however, we realize that quantum physics enabled a lot of the things that help us go about our day-to-day routine.

As a matter of fact, quantum devices are everywhere already! We touched on this point in the first article in the present series, and here we’ll elaborate.

How Quantum Physics Made Life More Livable

If you’re wondering what quantum life is going to be like, then you already know. Quantum mechanics have been at work since the beginning.

Quantum physics theory itself gives us access to the world of the very small. There, we picked up many quantum ingredients and incorporated them into practical solutions.

Every time you surf on the web, or use your computer or smartphone or game console, you should know that the quantum theory was fundamental in making that possible.

Transistors, the elementary blocks of computing, are silicon semiconducting solids, and the semiconductor theory is based on quantum effects.

In the broad sense, any electronic gadget whatsoever uses semiconductor physics that relies on quantum laws.

Without the precision of atomic clocks, time synchronization of the GPS system and telecommunications would be impossible.

The functioning and properties of lasers are based on quantum physics and its effects. Remove lasers from the equation and several industries and tech tools would no longer exist–think spectroscopy, communications (optical fibers), barcode readers, printers, LIDAR, and more.

Without an understanding of the stimulated emission of photons, there would be no practically useful laser technology.

Thanks to quantum physics, doctors can use magnetic resonance imaging to recognize and diagnose the most serious diseases.

A combination of quantum-based technologies allows MRI to exist: nuclear magnetic resonance, superconducting magnets, and for image reconstruction, semiconductor circuits.

What About “True” Quantum Devices?

Other than everyday tech tools discussed above, there are quantum devices built to serve specific purposes. While many of them are still confined to research, the journey toward practical industrial applications is just a matter of time.

For example, an NIST team works on quantum sensors. They are naturally extremely sensitive to external disturbances. They are used in research labs, and they’re poised to replace classical sensors in several industries.

Another example of quantum solutions already exploited are quantum simulators that allow researchers to simulate complex calculations and test their algorithms, tasks that even a conventional supercomputer can’t undertake.

If we managed to harness some of the quantum weirdness and spin them into useful tech, we’re still chasing “true” quantum computing.

“True” in the sense of practicality and, more importantly, scalability. Once quantum processors become industrially and commercially viable, they could serve an unimaginable range of applications.

In all likelihood, quantum computing will go the way of its silicon counterpart. It’ll start bulky, pricey, and complex. Eventually, it will wind up in desktop computers, smartphones and other gadgets. However, the applications that quantum computers will undertake will likely be more geared toward complex problem solving and academic pursuits.

We’re getting closer and closer to that goal with different projects and research initiatives tackling engineering challenges.

In that regard, scientists have recently revealed a tiny quantum data storage device that fits on a chip. Another team looks to quantum interference as a solution to the heating issue of quantum devices.

Viewing the world through the quantum prism has ultimately enabled us to develop many advanced technologies that made modern life comfortable, easy, and productive.

What do you think the “quantum age” has in store for us?

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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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