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Quantum computing is a term many people may need to become more familiar with. Fast forward a few years, and we could be discussing this new concept more and more. In this article, we’ll aim to demystify quantum computing, explaining what it is, how it works and its advantages.
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing is a computing field that focuses on developing existing technologies based on quantum theory. Quantum theory is a principle which explains how matter and energy behave on an atomic and subatomic level. The computers we use today are limited in terms of the data they can encode. For example, they can only encode data in bits that have a value of 0 or 1. Quantum computing capitalises on the capabilities of subatomic particles, meaning that bits, known as qubits or quantum bits, can exist in different states.
Quantum computing offers scope to solve problems that even supercomputers cannot tackle. IBM uses the example of creating a seating plan for a dinner party. If ten people were attending, there would be over 3 million possible combinations of guests around the table. Calculating this kind of sum poses difficulties for supercomputers. They take a long time because they have to analyse individual scenarios one after another, and they don’t have sufficient memory to hold all the combinations. However, quantum computers can solve real-world dilemmas by creating huge multidimensional spaces and using quantum algorithms to identify solutions.
It is estimated that if you searched a list of 1 trillion items for one single entry, a task would take one week to solve using a traditional computer. However, it would only take 1 second to resolve using a quantum computer.
How are quantum computers different from traditional computers?
The main difference between quantum and traditional computers is how they process data. A conventional computer will use transistors or bits with a value of either 1 or 0. Quantum computers use qubits (quantum bits), which can simultaneously be a 1 or a 0 or a 1 and a 0. When qubits link together, their power grows exponentially. When you link standard transistors, the power can only increase linearly.
Quantum computers are not designed to replace the computers we use daily for work purposes. Instead, their goal is to solve complex, complicated problems that involve big data and require detailed analysis.
Where is quantum computing now?
Quantum computing was established in the 1980s. Experts found that quantum theory could provide a much faster and more effective way to deal with computational issues than conventional computers. Since then, work on quantum computers has intensified. Many leading tech companies worldwide are currently involved in projects to create quantum computers and harness the power of this exciting technology. IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP and Toshiba are some names taking an active interest in quantum computing.
Statistics from Gartner suggest that 40% of the largest corporations are planning to launch programs linked to quantum computing by 2025.
What does the future hold?
Although many people who buy and use computers might not yet be aware of quantum computing, it could be a matter of only a few years before it plays an integral role in our lives. For a real-world example, Volkswagen is developing a traffic warning system to promote safety and save customers time. The system would alert drivers about heavy traffic and jams up to 45 minutes in advance, keeping them from sitting in lines and reducing the risk of accidents caused by heavy traffic flow.
The global quantum computing market is set to be worth over $5 billion by 2028, and there could be as many as 5,000 quantum computers by 2030.
How can quantum computing be used?
Quantum computing has multiple uses and applications. Here are some of the industries and applications in which quantum computers could make waves:
- Military, intelligence gathering and defence, including missile detection
- Medicine, including drug trials and treatment development
- Machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence)
- Big data analysis
- Digital manufacturing
- Environment, including using chemical sensors to keep water supplies clean
- Automotive, including developing more energy-efficient batteries for electric vehicles
Fascinating facts about quantum computing
Quantum computing may seem complex if you’re not familiar with the concept or you’re not an IT pro or a physics or maths whizz. Here are some fascinating facts to give you more information and gain a better insight into how quantum computers work and how they could benefit us in the future:
- Quantum computing could reduce power usage by 1,000 times
- IBM’s famous computer, Deep Blue, outsmarted renowned chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in 1997. Then, the computer could calculate 2 million different moves per second. With a quantum computer, this figure would rise to 1 trillion moves per second.
- Quantum computers could speed up machine learning to compress thousands of years of learning into just a few seconds.
- Despite its jaw-dropping capabilities, a quantum computer cannot tackle some of the most basic tasks we undertake with conventional computers, such as sending emails.
- Quantum computers are difficult to store. They must be kept at a temperature of around 0.015 Kelvin.
Quantum computing may be a new term to many, but it might not be long before it plays an integral role in the way we solve complex problems. Quantum computing is evolving quickly, and it offers benefits across several industries, including the automotive industry, medicine and research, finance, machine learning and military and intelligence. So, hold onto your hats as its closer than you think.