Mounting security concerns over relentless international data breaches continues to jeopardize the assets and privacy of citizens and governments alike. There are many uncertainties: crippled economies, wide-spread public exposure of individual’s private matters, and attacks on public and private entities, to name a few. These are not impending issues—they are currently happening to millions of citizens. Governments are engaged in cyber tactical moves with one another, but yet to become full-blown warfare. In this respect, quantum computing brings both problems and solutions for humanity’s future. Quantum information and computing are concepts in quantum mechanics that have led to some substantially important discoveries including the cryptic transmission of information, quantum entanglement (ensuring reliable delivery), quantum computation, and error correction. All of which are rooted in entanglement—the crown jewel of quantum computing (Steane, 1997).
Quantum computing offers the ability to siphon through all of this data and disregard the things that are not necessary to store, such as replicated information, thus reducing the amount of storage needed.
In the world of computer advancement, quantum rules the land. Rather than a binary system of 0 or 1, on or off, existing or not, that most computers run on today (and always have), quantum computing allows switches in computers to be both on and off simultaneously. Quantum particles defy the laws of physics as we understand them. They can move in time, exist and not exist, and seemingly go from one area to another without a discernible path. Qubits, the calculation elements of quantum computing, allows for a third state of being with numbers. Instead of just 0 or 1, there can exist both. This standing has no numerical value—it is simply referred to as a superposition. This is a different and more efficient way for the computer to analyze data. Qubits have the ability to occupy an entire area, allowing them to store more information. A binary system can only occupy 0 or 1, both stand-alone positions, whereas a qubit claims a superposition—many places at one time.
Today’s rapid and massive buildup of data feeds the need for quantum computing. Binary systems simply take too long to store and interpret data. Traditional computing makes sense of the binary systems by going in sequential order of zeroes and ones, one at a time. In many instances, this method effectively wastes more time than it is worth when it comes to storing large amounts of data. Qubits allow for faster storage, interpretation, and feedback of and from stored information. It allows more secure data encryption, with some countries claiming their systems cannot be hacked at all.
Massive security breaches of companies that hold user data—Facebook comes to mind—would subject millions to unfair data mining of their personal information. Out of necessity, once again, quantum computing finds an additional purpose. Cyber-attacks have become so rampant it is a cause for major concern. Computer-savvy vigilantes have found a medium through which they are able to hold companies ransom. The Sony hack three years ago that was eventually linked to North Korea and a group known as The Guardians of Peace was simply a retaliation for a satirical movie poking fun at the nation’s ruler. If countries are willing to do such a thing in response to a satirical film, what are they willing to do to cripple an entire economy? The superposition of qubits provides the best solution thus far to solving cyber security threats as well as creating them.
What happens then to computers that rely on the binary system to function? Binary computers remain in the same secure place society has had for them since inception. Quantum computers are meant to solve very complex problems and aid in time-consuming tasks like machine-learning. Simply put, using a quantum computer to send an email would be overkill. This means fast-tracking industries such as artificial intelligence. Although many associate these ideas with dystopian futures, it could also mean advances in areas like medicine and disease diagnosis.
The challenges to quantum computers, however, remain almost as unique as the fundamentals of quantum physics. Budding industries like quantum computing, self-driving cars, and the like all face challenges that are as new and dynamic as the industries they are creating and taking over. The challenged range from the intangible to the tangible. On a subatomic level, these computers are very fragile. Rearranging one would rearrange the particles inside it as well. Keeping the qubits simultaneously coherent and functional for more than a fraction of a second has also proven to be a challenge. Finally, something as simple as keeping the systems cooled while in use poses a problem too.
As almost inconceivable amounts of data pile up a daily basis, the world is facing an eventual impending crisis. Quantum computing offers the ability to siphon through all of this data and disregard the things that are not necessary to store, such as replicated information, thus reducing the amount of storage needed.
The pursuit of “quantum supremacy” is a noble one, however, and strides are being made by start-ups and large corporations alike.
So where do things stand now? While some companies are focusing on expanding the capacity of their computers, others are creating more stability within existing systems. Intel is forgoing traditional goals for a seemingly bigger picture and working towards manufacturing affordable materials to build quantum computers. Like most technology challenges of today, this one is no different in that IBM and Google are front runners. This quest is not just for major players, however. Smaller startups have found their place as well. The United States West Coast-based company Rigetti along with companies like Ion Q, D-Wave, and Quantum Circuits prove solutions can be provided from anywhere.
The future of quantum computing once imagined and described by Richard Feynman in the mid-1900s is here and it is one he would be proud of. He was driven by one notion; the idea that to imitate the properties of physics, a computation method based on quantum mechanics must be realized. Google and IBM have been able to simulate chemical interactions with quantum appliances; a task traditional computers are incapable of. This means, theoretically, the ability to simulate chemical interactions could lead to more efficient and effective medicine.
The practicality of implementation, challenges, benefits, and potential threats quantum computing seems to offer expands almost daily. Some of their own researchers have doubts about the ability for quantum computing to catch on, as long as coding relies on factorizations. The pursuit of “quantum supremacy” is a noble one, however, and strides are being made by start-ups and large corporations alike. Hopefully the quantum future Feynman envisioned will soon become a fundamental part of peoples’ lives, as have many other technological advances once thought impossible.
Beall, A. and Reynolds, M. (2018). What Are Quantum Computers And How Do They Work? WIRED Explains. Retrieved from http://www.wired.co.uk/article/quantum-computing-explained
Knight, Will. (2018). Serious Quantum Computers Are Finally Here. What Are We Going To Do With Them?. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610250/hello-quantum-world/?utm_campaign=owned_social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social
Marr, Bernard. (2017). 15 Things Everyone Should Know About Quantum Computing. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/10/10/15-things-everyone-should-know-about-quantum-computing/2/#2dccac13792a
Steane, A. (1997). Quantum computing. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/61/2/002