The Quantum Revolution
We have reached an era where the amount of data existent can only be handled by more powerful computers: quantum computers. Machines that can process complex problems, and can also handle storing more information in less space.
“Get ready to think outside a box you didn’t know existed.” Charlie Bennett, IBM Fellow, talking about how should we approach this new tech.
Our classical computers already do a good job: they connect us, provide information, entertain us, allow us to fasten and perfect our work, and further our knowledge and studies.
Most importantly, they allow us to process the existing, massive amount of data and translate them into comprehensive pieces of information that help us humans understand, solve and explain all different situations and scenarios.
A bit has just one single value, a 0 or a 1. On the other hand, a qubit can have both values, based on its superposition state.
“The difference between classical bits and qubits is that we can also prepare qubits in a quantum superposition of 0 and 1 and create nontrivial correlated states of a number of qubits, so-called ‘entangled states’,” says Alexey Fedorov, a physicist at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
Quantum Computers will fasten up the investigation process and bring breakthroughs in many fields, such as medicine and technology. But what’s the point of having computers that storage more with less energy, when we are still struggling to process the current huge amount of data?
Google and IBM are leading the race to swap from classical machines as we know them to quantum computers. Where initially Google seemed to be taking the lead, as the company claimed that it will create a 49-qubit computer by the end of 2017. Then in November, IBM announced it had built a 50-qubit machine. However, both are still far from practical use.
On the other hand, IBM has gone a step further than Google by allowing researchers to use five-qubit computers connected to the cloud, and now recently has also offered a 20-qubit online system.
According to experts in the field, we know that computers follow different functions to operate, analyze and manipulate information thanks to three main phenomenons: superposition, entanglements and interface. In order to do this, computers need bits, or in this case now, qubits.
A qubit does not represent a specific value, it represents as many as possibilities exist for each problem presented. So the more qubits available, the more computational power within a machine.
As opposed to the classic bit, can have a value of 0, or 1 or both values at the same time, its value is known at the moment it is being measured. Another way to describe this behavior is saying that the qubit is in a superposition state.
- Superposition is when two or more independent elements happen at the same time. A qubit can have two values at the same time. It is not in a constant state so only when you stop it at a specific moment in time you can know its exact value of each.
- Entanglement is a form of connection between all existent qubits as a group. In another way, they are correlated to each other. By knowing that two qubits are correlated in opposite directions, both being in a superposition state, there will be no knowledge of the direction of either prior to the moment of measuring one, and once you do it the direction will be known for the correlated qubit(s).
- Interference in quantum computing is identical to the interference phenomenon that occurs on light waves as described in the double-slit experiment. So by applying different forms of interference, the final output will vary.
All these new effects that quantum computers bring means that algorithms will change as we know them. So, how are these algorithms developed for computers to understand? How can humans create algorithms for machines that are not yet completely developed?
The reason for why quantum algorithms are so compelling, is because of what they can do. They have caught the attention of finance-savvy professionals, from thieves to bankers. Because they can factore big numbers, they will be able to also do or undo any encryptions. They also make searches much faster, because of how they relate to collective properties with systems of numbers.
Some scientists believe that quantum will even be able to explain how does the human brain work. Imagine the outputs this will bring to machine learning, if scientists and engineers could translate the human brain neural impulses into numbers, then it will be perfectly possible to create a machine that not only operates but thinks like a human brain.
Click here if you want to get a head start on learning how to write quantum algorithms.
Quantum vs Classical computers
People will keep on comparing one versus the other, but there will not be a clear victory. It will be a continuous development circle, where genius scientists will be creating circuits with over 50 qubits and growing, claiming it to be the current most powerful one.
It’s already hard enough to properly define how far we are at with quantum computing as well as understanding accurately its true power. Also, even though very promising, sure there are still errors to work with.
There is a reason why quantum computing is so hard to comprehend, there are still lots of functions and variables to narrow down yet.
With classical computers, these types of situations are not hard to handle, you make sure that any random bit that is not doing its work stands out from the crowd.
This is a double-edged sword: putting all your time and power on correcting the noise and errors of a quantum computer, takes you away from working on the algorithms.
How do we increase and scale the power of quantum computing? There are two parameters to have in mind.
First, Qubit count: we already know that qubits hold double the amount of info as regular bits, so the more qubits, the more info that can be manipulated and stored.
When attempting to measure qubits, their superposition collapses to 1 or 0. Around 10 thousand of today’s physical qubits would make one single logical qubit, according to theorist Alán Aspuru-Guzik of Harvard University.
Second, achieve lower error rates: We need to be able to manipulate the qubit states accurately and perform sequential operations that provide answers, not noise.
Avoid or cancel the error’s influence. Researches are currently working on figuring out mathematically by predicting the error scenario in a computation and then anticipating the result to a ‘zero noise’ limit.
Combining these two, we can get a single measure of a quantum computer power: Quantum Volume.
“Quantum volume measures the relationship between number and quality of qubits, circuit connectivity, and error rates of operations.” Scaling quantum systems, IBM.
The aim of building larger systems with lower error rates is to be able to begin the quantum era, where quantum machines will be finally able to offer solutions to real-life problems.
History of Quantum Computing
See how Quantum computing has evolved through history on this timeline.
Future of Quantum Computing
So, are we really near the so-called ‘Quantum Supremacy’? The movement where quantum machines will take over from classical machines.
According to quantum theorist Michael Bremmer, progress is not about speed. The fact is that whenever ‘quantum supreme’ machines arrive, they will not be providing us with the cure of cancer straight away, but they will lead the way to how to reach such exciting solutions such as the cure of cancer or how to crack encrypted codes.
“Nobody is saying ‘never’ anymore,” Scott Totzke, Chief Executive of the Canadian firm Isara Corp., told The Wall Street Journal. “We are in the very, very early days, but we are well past the science-fiction point.”
The big giants: Google, IBM, Microsoft and Intel, plus all quantum startups and scientists passionate about this new hot trend in the tech world, are investing big time in reaching first the ‘quantum supremacy’.
However quantum physics is a field that is yet a mystery itself and not properly defined, even less clear how useful quantum computers will really be because the parameters and power of a quantum machine itself are not yet defined. The amount of advancements made on a regular basis does not allow to be fit in one single article.
So what is the next big thing about Quantum Computing? How can we predict the changes that this new tech will make into life as we know it? How can we estimate the impact?
2018 — Here is where we are at now.
- Triple-photon form of light discovered by a team from MIT.
- Intel confirms 49-qubit superconducting test chip.
- Google announces the creation of 72-qubit quantum chip, setting a new record.
Experts on the field that have had the chance to explore the possibilities that Quantum Computing will bring are confident that this new generation of machines will allow us all to organize and make sense of the data we keep on creating.
In order to save time, we will be able to tackle major issues with the closest approaches and solutions, with the systems generating billions of data sets a day.
Quantum Computing will unfold the current most intricate topics in the world today in all fields: science, biology, artificial intelligence, financial, cybersecurity, physics, health… to name a few.
On the other hand, surely there will also be reasons to believe this big next leap into the future of tech will bring negative outcomes. But as William Hurley said to Futurism — It is exciting to witness the opportunities and changes quantum computing will bring.
From finding the cure to diseases we now think are incurable, to discovering new sides of science, physics and biology that remain a mystery at the moment.
“No encryption existing today would be able to hide from the processing power of a functioning quantum computer,” says Patrick Caughill.
He refers to quantum computers as a ‘weapon of mass disruption’ according to what experts in the field have claimed that these machines will represent and be used for: breaking modern cryptography.
All information stored online is encrypted, or in other words, protected, so that it is not publicly available to anyone. However, of course, hackers have learned how to jump over this wall, and experts confirm that quantum computers will even encourage or facilitate malicious information breaches.
Which means that the security, hierarchy and even common sense, will be affected and influenced by the power that these computers will bring. .
At the moment only two quantum algorithms exist: one is to search databases, the other is Shor’s algorithm, which is capable of breaking encryptions.
Any breakthrough can lead to good and evil. Quantum computers may not yet, or ever, will be powerful enough to create or destroy a nuclear bomb, but at the moment and onwards, their digital capability and potential is as such, says Vladimir Shalaev, member of the International Advisory Board of the Russian Quantum Center and is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University.
Having so many doors open at our footsteps, so many possibilities to discover and so many options to turn the balance to a positive or negative outputs, we must stay informed, be aware and conscious of each step we take with such a powerful new tech.
Do you believe quantum computing will make a positive impact, or will it be used for personal purposes of a few once is ready to be commercialize with?
Are you interested in job hunting positions within the quantum field? Are you looking to be noticed by the big giants? Become a contributor at Qiskit Aqua (library to compose quantum algorithms) and Qiskit Terra (library to compose quantum software stack).
Check our list of online content to help you speed up and get ahead of the curve on this futuristic field before it becomes a common skill.
After all this information, it is clear that the future is Quantum. So if not holding knowledge or practice about this area, it is wise to increase the knowledge in this field. Luckily, thanks to the power of the Internet, there is a list of free online courses to choose from.
- There are also choices at edX such as ‘The Quantum Internet and Quantum Computers: How Will They Change the World?’: learn about the principles that cover Quantum Computers and Quantum Internet and how they are going to impact the future.
- ‘The Building Blocks of Quantum Computer’: course covering how a quantum computer works, the scientific principles behind and the software that operates it.
- ‘Quantum Cryptography’: covering how quantum communication provides security online.
- Check MIT’s Quantum Curriculum as well for a deep dive into the field.
Here is a list of videos, from easy to expert, about QC:
- Quantum Computing Explained in 5 levels: Conducted by Wired, Dr. Talia Gershon explains QC to 5 people of different age.
- Quantum Computing in a Nutshell: a documentary that provides an overview of computers and mechanics.
- Quantum Computers explained: an animated video explaining the scientific concepts behind QC.
- How does a Quantum Computer work?: A quantum computer works in a totally different way from a classical computer. Quantum bits or ‘qubits’ can exist in a superposition state of both zero and one simultaneously. This means that a set of two qubits can be in a superposition of four states, which therefore require four numbers to uniquely identify the state. So the amount of information stored in N qubits is two to the power of N classical bits.
- Quantum Computers, here’s where we are at: Quantum computers are just on the horizon as both tech giants and startups are working to kickstart the next computing revolution.
- Quantum Computing for Computer Scientists: Microsoft Research quick course with a final workshop.
Online QC-related ‘games’ for programmers and hackers:
- Quantum Computing Playground: Play and hack with quantum algorithms on this online platform.
- Hello Quantum is IBM’s app that wants to show you how easy it is to work with Quantum Computing.
In case that you prefer to take your eyes away from the screen, here is a list of books on the topic:
- Quantum Computation and Quantum Information: standard book in the field to start off with.
- Quantum Computer Science: an intermediate level book to read after having a basic knowledge of the topic.
Here is a list of commonly cited papers:
- Quantum Algorithms — an overview
- Quantum-inspired genetic algorithms
- Strengths and weaknesses of Quantum Computing
- ‘Quantum Computing, Now and Next’: a podcast discussion between Chad Rigetti and Chris Dixon on the A16Z Podcast is a great primer on the basics of quantum computing and why is exciting.
- ‘The Cloud Atlas to Real Quantum Computing’: follow-up podcast discussion between Jeff Cordova, Vijay Pande, and Sonal Chokshi talking about how this technology will actually roll out via cloud-hosted APIs and how quantum algorithms are different than classical ones.
- ‘Quantum Computing’: podcast from The Digital Life that looks at the industry from a bit broader viewpoint. They explain exactly what Google and D-Wave are working on and how it fits into the broader context of advancements in quantum computing.
QUANTUM COMPUTING EVENTS
- The Quantum Information Processing (QIP 2019). January 14 to 18, 2019 at the University of Colorado Boulder in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
- The European Quantum Technologies Conference (EQTC) 2019. Grenoble, France. February 18th — 22nd, 2019.
- The Future of Quantum Computing, Quantum Cryptography, and Quantum Sensors. March 19–21, 2019.
- Quantum Information and Measurement (QIM) V: Quantum Technologies. April 4–6, 2019 in Rome, Italy.
- First International Workshop on Quantum Technology and Optimization Problems (QTOP’19): Munich, Germany on March 18–21, 2019.
Check the Quantum Computing Report for further details on events held between the end of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.