What is Quantum Computing?

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Answers to the most frequently asked questions about Quantum Computing.

The global race to the quantum computer is in full swing. Google, Microsoft, IBM, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent are fighting to create the first stable quantum computer.

Google now even claims that it has achieved “quantum supremacy” with a quantum computer. This means that it can solve a problem faster than a modern supercomputer.

The most powerful computer at the moment. According to Google, this computer’s processor takes 200 seconds to calculate. That would take a modern supercomputer ten thousand years. Competitor IBM, however, criticizes Google, saying that it would not take a supercomputer ten thousand years, but only 2.5 days.

What is a Quantum Computer?

Quantum computers are intelligent and powerful computers. Computers that process information in a new way and in this way can force major and vital breakthroughs. Quantum computers are expected to open doors to possibilities that are currently unimaginable.

With quantum computing, we can calculate how the perfect medicine can be made at the molecular level. Or the cause of changes in the climate. But also how we solve mobility problems or which material is still superconducting at room temperature. This has a huge impact on our energy supply. The developments of this “supercomputer” kind are going very fast. Why is there so much excitement, and is it justified?

The term quantum computer was first mentioned in 1981 by the American physicist Richard Feynman. The word “quantum” comes from quantum mechanics. That is the branch of natural sciences concerned with studying the behavior of atomic and subatomic particles. Quantum comes from the Latin word for “amount.”

Quantum computers have the potential to perform calculations much faster than traditional computers. And even faster than the supercomputers, we use today. For example, a stable quantum computer can provide an unprecedented growth spurt in artificial intelligence.

The difference between classic computers

Classic computers use memory that stores information using bits. Each bit represents 0 or 1 on or off, yes or no. A quantum computer, on the other hand, uses quantum bits. A qubit can occupy a 0, a 1, or a quantum superposition. The latter means that it can take all possible values.

Quantum parallel processing

A traditional two-bit computer can store information in four possible combinations: 00, 01, 10, and 11. A quantum computer can take all of these combinations at once. A sequence of thirty zeros and ones makes about a billion different combinations possible.

A classical computer can only occupy one of these combinations simultaneously, but a quantum computer can occupy them all at once. This allows it to make a billion calculations in the time when a classic computer makes one.

A quantum computer can be compared to a classic computer with a billion processors but in one piece of hardware. The phenomenon that a quantum computer can make multiple calculations simultaneously is also called quantum parallel processing.

Another example: we all know the game Pac-man. With a yellow “bite” called Pac-Man, you have to make your way through a playing field filled with balls. The goal is to eat all the balls in the playing field without being caught by ghosts. As we know the game, it resembles existing computing.

You can only control 1 Pacman, and it can go left, right, down, and up. With Quantum Computing (as a metaphor, equation), you can simultaneously calculate and play all routes. That, therefore, creates many more possibilities. That goes much faster.

Quantum entanglement

Another property of quantum computers is the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. This means that two particles have a certain bond with each other, regardless of the distance between them. When the state of one of the particles is measured, one immediately knows the second’s state, regardless of the distance. For example, if a particle one spins up, we know that part two spins down. Quantum superposition and quantum entanglement make it possible for a quantum computer to perform many calculations simultaneously.

Possible applications

Quantum computers offer an enormous amount of computing power. But what are the uses of this raw power? An obvious application of quantum computers is to improve encryption. Encryption is now often used by multiplying two huge prime numbers and attaching the encryption to their product. It takes ordinary computer ages to break this product into the two original prime numbers. A quantum computer can reduce centuries to seconds here. Other methods must be devised to encrypt data in this way.

On the other hand, quantum computers can also crack classical encryption if hackers lay their hands on a quantum computer. Science would also get a huge boost from quantum computers. Many experiments no longer have to be performed but simulated. This can save a lot of time and money. Consider, for example, the particle accelerator in Geneva: this whole system could be simulated. Or calculations about climate predictions, space research, or the possibilities or limitations of genetic manipulation in crops.

A quantum computer can be used to search and analyze gigantic amounts of data. This can also give pharmaceutical research a significant boost, for example. But the enormous computing power of a quantum computer can also pave the way for AGI, artificial general intelligence. But this is speculative.

The development of a quantum computer

If we believe the tech blogs, every year is “the year that quantum computers breakthrough.” But every year, they conclude that, unfortunately, this is not yet the case. The development of quantum computers is not without a struggle. Qubits are very unstable and still make many mistakes. The information they often contain only exists for a fraction of a second before the qubits fall apart.

To exist even for this short period, the system requires quite a complex environment. A temperature around absolute zero and a virtually silent room — not an environment where the average computer user has his computer.

The challenge is to create an environment where qubits remain stable; much research is being done. Until then, your smartphone can often make even better calculations than a quantum computer.

So a promising technology: quantum computing. A technological trend to keep an eye on. Because when this trend comes to fruition, we will get a lot of new possibilities. Remember, a quantum computer with 300 qubits could instantly perform more calculations than atoms in the visible universe.


References

QuTech: research and development in quantum technology …. https://www.altran.com/nl/en/case_study/qutech-research-and-development-in-quantum-technology/

bryan@dijkhuizenmedia.com

bryan@dijkhuizenmedia.com

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