Just when this old dinosaur was beginning to come to grips with the dizzying speed of the digital world, quantum computing crops up. It was during my halcyon days on Wall Street that the internet was born and began its unfettered march to dominance. At that time, in the late ’80s and ’90s, no one could foresee the role that the computer and the internet would play. Heck, the iPhone is only 10 years old. One had to think, what could be better than this? How can you improve upon perfection?
The answer, it would seem, is speed, and it is now at hand with the emergence of quantum computing. Before you ditch your personal computer, note that quantum computers are not intended to replace regular computers. They are a different tool - one that we will use to solve complex problems beyond the capabilities of a standard computer.
Quantum computers can exponentially outperform and out-calculate conventional computers. In this, Google appears poised and primed to lead the way. Google and a group of physicists at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) have made strides with a quantum computer that may mean quantum supremacy is only months away. Quantum states are difficult to isolate and sustain, but the Google collaboration has made a breakthrough. Apparently, it all comes down to…wait for it…qubits.
Qubits may sound like a breakfast cereal, but it is paving the way to quantum supremacy. The smallest unit of data in a computer is the bit. While each ordinary bit can be either a 1 or a 0 at any given time, a qubit can be both at once. This provides great scale because only a few quibits blow away the memory of a traditional computer.
The team may achieve quantum supremacy in months, rather than years. Their plan isn’t to create a fully functional quantum computer, but to create a system that can support less than 50 qubits reliably. Technically, this won’t be enough to ensure supremacy in itself. However, it will put them closer to that elusive goal far sooner than anyone’s prediction. We’re alerted that the results will be “staggering,” and that we can look forward to seeing “machine learning take place exponentially faster, and artificial intelligence progress much more rapidly.”
With quantum computing and its attendant power and speed, things like personalized medical treatment will be possible. Computers will be fast enough and precise enough to measure the “function of every protein in the human genome and model their interactions with all possible complex molecules very quickly.” Solutions for things like carbon-capture in climate change scenarios will be at hand. In that vein, as a way to wean us off fossil fuels, quantum computing will help in the quest to find more durable batteries to power vehicles whose bright future has hitherto been hampered by battery size and life.
A new frontier is upon us. It is at once exciting and maybe a little daunting. I guess the same could have been said back in the 1990s. Few could have predicted the advances that have been made by computers since then, due in a large part to speed and functionality. Both will be enhanced with the advent of quantum computing. In the future, it may make the computers we use today seem like the pocket calculators that we relied on decades ago. Are you ready for it?
Opinions are the writer's own.