Quantum Computers: Computing the Impossible?
PumaPay might be a cryptocurrency project, but we are always on the lookout for the latest techie trend, especially if this is the talk of the town. And also, in this case, if it means that in the future it might pose important challenges to encryption, and thus to blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. This is why, we’re focusing on the latest rage, quantum computing.
At the time of writing, quantum computing was the subject of White House talks between tech and financial companies such as Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), IBM Corp (IBM.N), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and US government representatives in an effort to develop a plan to boost quantum information science. Quantum computers hold significant implications for the future. On the one hand, they could significantly surpass today’s most advanced computers, making them the next generation supercomputers. But, on the other hand, they could crack traditional computers’ security codes, making them potentially a threat.
Quantum computing might still be in its infancy, but with the world’s first $15-million-dollar quantum computer being sold to a cyber-security firm in 2015, the technology is no longer the stuff of dreams or the philosopher’s stone. Companies, universities and laboratories are all exploring practical quantum applications, making quantum computing the next big thing. Its potential use in healthcare, communications, AI, financial services, transportation and so many other areas holds the transformative possibility to irrevocably change and improve our lives.
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing grew out of the twentieth century’s two most revolutionary theories: information theory and quantum mechanics and their ensuing development into quantum information theory.
For example, quantum mechanics has been limited to the realm of traditional computing and communication devices, from the transistor to the laser, and it was not until the 1980s that researchers realized its application and implication in information processing. By the 1990s the first basic quantum computers were built, while more advanced versions became available in the 2000s. Of course, if you are a millionaire you can now purchase one from D-Wave systems.
While it remains unknown whether quantum computing and information are practical, quantum information theory has been extremely attractive to researchers who continue to explore its possibilities. While there are engineering issues, there is nothing that can prohibit building large-scale quantum computers, and many theorists and experimentalists are currently working on promising approaches, despite the uncertainty over the functionality of a quantum computer carrying out general quantum computations.
Talking Bits: How does quantum computing work?
Quantum computing changes the whole notion of computation itself rather than marking a simple movement from classical to quantum. In this respect, at the fundamental level the unit of computation is not the bit as with traditional computing, but the quantum bit or qubit. Quantum bits are the basic units of information in quantum information processing in the same way that bits are the basic units of information for classical processing. By transporting computation on a quantum mechanical level, scientists discovered faster algorithms, new cryptographic mechanisms and improved communication protocols.
Okay, we admit that our explanation cannot be as good as that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who back in 2016 made headlines with his “arguably” in-depth knowledge of quantum computing. But, summarizing the differences between computers we have in our home and quantum ones, we can say that conventional computers work based on a binary logic, whereas quantum computers don’t have to choose one over the other and can be simultaneously 0 and 1, in a state called superposition. A single qubit in this state can perform two different parallel streams of calculations, making quantum computers faster and more efficient.
Another term associated with quantum computers is that of entanglement where qubits work together in a coordinated and co-dependent manner. Because of superposition and entanglement, a quantum computer can process massive numbers of calculations simultaneously.
Quantum computers are also more secure than everyday traditional computers, because they can find large prime numbers which are the key to modern encryption, thus making quantum computers a double-edged sword. This means that quantum-based cryptographic systems will be safer, but they will also be better at cracking online information systems, forcing eventually scientists to develop technology that is resistant to quantum hacking.
Google has claimed that by the end of this year it will reach “quantum supremacy”: the potential ability of quantum computers to solve problems traditional computers are unable to. Mind you, Google had made a similar claim last year, so we take such claims with a pinch of salt. The term quantum supremacy is catchy, confusing and oversells what quantum computers can actually do, according to Professor at Oxford University, Simon Benjamin. So, it remains to be seen what researchers will come up with.
The approach that Google follows is creating qubits by building superconducting circuits that need to be in very cold temperatures. Changes in temperature or vibrations, aka “noise”, can destroy the fragility of qubits causing errors in calculations. This is why, the creation and management of such a functional and fully operational quantum computer which will demand super-cooling technology, will be a very complex and costly feat that will immediately render it unusable. For example, for some researchers, the issue of noise is perhaps the main reason that keeps quantum computers from ever becoming useful.
So if you’re still wondering whether you can get your quantum computer any time soon, the answer is plainly, not yet. Some of the main problems, such as the massive consumption of computing power, the issue of “noise” and the many errors in calculations are at present difficult to solve. However, this has not stopped researchers, venture capitalists and big corporations such as IBM and Microsoft from investing heavily in the industry. At least for now, will have to wait for the next quantum leap.