Quantum Computing: Not Just Science Fiction Anymore

Credit to D-Wave Systems and IBM

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be in two places at once? We would be able to get more things done, accomplish tasks more efficiently, and generally improve our lives at a much faster pace. Or, even better, what if we could be in every place at once? Unfortunately for us humans, it is nearly impossible to be in multiple places at the same time – but that certainly won’t stop us from trying. This is why we have been putting so much effort into studying the science of quantum physics; more specifically, why we have been focusing so much of our energy on developing quantum computing.

Quantum physics may seem like it’s a very complicated subject, with more rules and laws to grasp than at your mother’s house, and frankly, that’s because it is. At its core, quantum physics is based around a few principles:

  1. Objects are made up of both waves and particles;
  2. Concepts in standard physics, such as energy, momentum, and other quantities, are restricted to discrete singular values as opposed to a continuous string of values, and;
  3. The things being measured have an an uncertainty about them, making them hard to measure.[2]

Stemming from that, and being a bit easier to understand, quantum computing is based on the theory that digital computers are much less efficient. Digital computers can only store data and information as bits represented by 0s or 1s, and that severely limits us. Quantum computers, on the other hand, can store data as qubits: 0s, 1s, or both at the same time.[4] In an article from D-Wave Systems, a leading company in quantum computing, they describe the process thus:

“You can trace the movement of a hiker who is trying to find the lowest point of a certain area by placing the hiker at as many different points as possible, using to the idea of superposition, and making the hiker move down through the sides of mountains. You pass through the mountains altogether in order to avoid local minimums, allowing the hiker to find the lowest overall point.[3]”

Essentially, finding the lowest point with this method is much faster than tracing every single path, one after another, by starting at every path and traversing them simultaneously. It’s a tough process to grasp, even for some of the physicists who work with quantum theory every day. Luckily, however, large companies with the resources to pull it off are making some serious progress.

Back in the spring of 2016, IBM released access to a five-qubit quantum system, allowing for those who registered to try their hand at quantum computing.[7] Anyone who wanted to get in on the ground floor of the next evolution in modern computing could easily do so via IBM’s system. Granted, you won’t be able to do much with five-qubits, as five-qubits equates to a five-bit digital computer system, but it’s definitely enough to dip your toes into the complicated quantum waters. About a year has passed since then (which is a long time in the world of technology), and IBM has moved further down their road-map for more feasible quantum computing. 

Building on their claims of creating a 50-qubit system in the next couple of decades, IBM has decreased the projected timeline, announcing that it could only take them a few more years.[1] Many people are wary of this claim, because while IBM boasts that they can reach their goal soon, their competition, D-Wave, at the same technological level is not yet showing the same signs of ridiculously accelerated progress. Either way, the idea of having exponentially faster computers to run operations and deal with data is a truly exciting idea. The sheer possibilities are endless if IBM can achieve what it has claimed it can in the near future.

One key area that will benefit greatly from advancements in quantum computing is the area of optimization. Figuring out the possible combinations of tens, hundreds, or thousands of items takes an enormous toll on standard digital computing systems. Sure, it can be done, and is done everyday, but if we could handle all of those combinations at once, it would prove immensely useful to several different areas, such as system planning, streamlining web searches, financial planning. It would also help to solve a whole host of other complex problems. With this in mind, imagine a world where everyone had a quantum computer, or at least had their computers linked into a quantum computing server. This would revolutionize modern computing, Any operation that you could think of would be completed with more speed and efficiency than before. Average users would have access to machines that only billion dollar companies and governments had access to, affording them near-limitless possibilities.

Ultimately, advances in the field of quantum mechanics are leading to a complete overhaul of how computing is done. Systems will run faster and more efficiently, therefore improving upon all the physical systems and machinery that utilize those systems; it is very much a win-win situation. So, for all those who are eager about the future of computers (and more generally that of quantum computing), it’s suggested that you find the link to IBM’s five-qubit code and dive right in.

Cited Works

[1]  Anthony, Sebastian. “IBM Will Sell 50-qubit Universal Quantum Computer “in the next Few Years”.” Ars Technica UK. N.p., 06 Mar. 2017. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.

[2]  “D-Wave Systems.” Applications | D-Wave Systems. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <https://www.dwavesys.com/quantum-computing/applications>.

[3] “D-Wave Systems.” Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <https://www.dwavesys.com/>.

[4]  “D-Wave Systems.” Quantum Computing | D-Wave Systems. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <https://www.dwavesys.com/quantum-computing>.

[5] “IBM Q – US.” IBM Q – US. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <http://research.ibm.com/ibm-q/>.

[6] IBM – United States. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. <https://www.ibm.com/us-en/?lnk=m>.

[7]  Lee, Chris. “How IBM’s New Five-qubit Universal Quantum Computer Works.” Ars Technica UK. N.p., 04 May 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.

Zach Auzenne
Mostly consisting of matter and definitely not tiny robots, I am a creative individual with a passion for, well, creating. Perusing a degree in Software Engineering, I hope to marry my programming and documentation knowledge with my true passion of art and design. Working two jobs in graphic design and seeking software internships, I hope to abolish all my free time in trade for favorable placement in the hierarchy of life.