Quantum Computing 2019: the Year of Supremacy
2019 was indeed the year of the quantum computer. The idea of a computing device based on the quantum physics principles is as old as the personal computer itself, but it seemed fantasy for long decades. However, in 2019, leaders of the sphere reported a breakthrough progress. Now we are on the threshold of even more significant discoveries waiting for us right behind the door.
But what is a Quantum Computer?
At the beginning of the 21st century, people understood two things. Classical computing devices have their limits, and we have almost reached them. We already know about the problems where traditional computers won’t help. People needed a new computer and a much more powerful one.
The usual computers use the binary code to process the data. There is the minimum unit – a bit. It has two basic states: “one” and “zero.” It’s almost the Shakespearian “to be or not to be.” The combination of these states can describe any physical object and turn it into a digital compilation of “zeros” and “ones.” For a long time, this approach let us solve all theoretical and practical tasks. Unfortunately, that time ended.
The new informational unit is a “qubit” – “a quantum bit.” Unlike the traditional bit, a qubit can be in several conditions at the same time. “To be and not to be, and everything in between” or the state of superposition. When you have several qubits in superposition, we may connect them and have them communicate with each other.
The classical computer takes tasks one by one, but it calculates much faster than a man. The quantum computer can deal with several aspects of a problem at once, speeding up the calculations. However, it is not the main advantage. The crucial factor is that it comes to correct conclusions, since its calculations are of probabilistic nature. The quantum waves make the false solutions sink, and the right answers will rise.
Scientists claim the quantum computers will be a million times more potent than even the best existing supercomputers. Tasks that now demand hundreds or thousands of years of calculations may be done in a couple of minutes. This will become possible with the “quantum supremacy.” When we get it – the door will be open.
In 2019 Google reported reaching quantum supremacy.
The Quantum Race of 21st century
Google is an unconditional leader. It created the most powerful of all the quantum computers with 72 qubits, and is going to prove the quantum supremacy using own quantum processor.
The rivals of Google are IBM, Intel, smaller companies like D-Wave in Canada, and even the Chinese government – it invested heavily in the quantum researches.
IBM was the company that changed the world when it introduced the first personal computer. It is not going to give up now. Following its initial path, it creates solutions for public usage. The most potent IBM machine is the 50-qubit computer, but there are 5- and 16-qubit computers that everybody can use. The more programmers practice calculations on quantum computers, the more data they collect – the better IBM can develop this technology.
The Intel company explores a different qubit technology and is going to present the 50-qubit computer in the nearest future. Alternative methods ensure that investigators will try various means and choose the most efficient ones.
The D-Wave company might not be so famous to the public, but its name is well-known to all people interested in quantum computing. They made a practical service and let their clients use the cloud-based quantum computer once a month. The clients get only one minute, but it is enough because this computer will do the job within a millisecond. D-Wave is a leader among the “practical” companies – its clients are Airbus and Volkswagen, for instance.
The Tasks they solve with Quantum Computing
There are two main approaches: focusing on one specific problem or a universal approach. But the main scope of these computers are the optimization of processes, modeling, and simulations.
One of the most complex problems of today is dealing with over-complicated systems with loads of elements. The standard computers get stuck – they can’t calculate all the variety of probabilities.
Here quantum computers emerge, as uncertain elements and interactions are their “cup of tea” – provided that machines needed a cup of tea. Some of the pundits claim that the purpose of a quantum computer is to guess. The guess can relate to anything – the best route from A to B, the best shape of the airplane wing, or the most efficient combination of atoms in a synthetic molecule. These computers offer an assumption – and the quantum waves would raise the right variants.
The Practical Usage of Quantum Computers
Though it still sounds like something from science fiction, in some fields, quantum computers are already welcome guests and helpers.
Chemical and Pharmaceutical spheres
The top advantage of the quantum computer is the possibility to model chemical reactions and find catalysts. Classical computers can also “draft” some new chemicals, but the quantum computer will do it much faster and more precisely. Hence, it can compose new chemicals and materials. The batteries for electric cars or new types of fuel, or the new materials for machine building and aviation – they all can rely on quantum opportunities.
Medicine pins high hopes on the powers of quantum computers. They can model complex structures of atoms or cells that will turn into the prototypes of future drugs. Or, these machines can give humanity an utterly new cure based on the genome decryption.
It is a new approach that emerged as a combination of machine learning and quantum physics. The goal is to use the technical supremacy of the quantum calculations to speed up the learning algorithms. Google sees this direction as one of the most beneficial for the future. Maybe we’ll see a full-functional AI based on quantum neural networks soon?
Optimization of the existing processes and services
City traffic is a black hole consuming a lot of time by its terrific jams. It is the most ambitious task of our modern days to predict the traffic flow and manage millions of cars in such a way that they won’t provoke jams. It is possible in theory, but in practice, the idea meets the human factor.
The task is to know how many vehicles will be on the roads at any moment, where they will be, and how they will interact. Classical computers can’t do this in a reasonable timeframe – the solution they find will become obsolete at that very moment. But the quantum computers could potentially model that terrifying system with all its elements, and calculate the shortest and safest route for each vehicle. It might not be possible so far to resolve every issue, but Volkswagen could optimize the traffic flow in such a megapolis as Beijing successfully.
The range of such sensors would help to detect any smallest changes of both the huge objects like volcanos and the minor issues of human bodies. The possibility to detect abnormal cells when there is only a couple of them before they turn into the malignant tumor will be the most efficient weapon to fight cancer.
These fields are few examples of the quantum computing application. Even the scientists still don’t know all their possibilities. Though it is quite understandable that we are at a very early stage, and quantum computers would hardly take the place of the laptops in the nearest future, we are living in a world where everything can change overnight.
The Dark Side of the Quantum Computing
It is an inevitable problem of each discovery – there will always be a possibility to use it with evil intents. The quantum computer can potentially do the “factoring large numbers” exercise easier than any of the supercomputers. It means breaking some of our widely used cryptographic algorithms. The existing quantum computers are not capable of doing this – so far. But they will become more powerful, and then the protective algorithms won’t be an obstacle for them.
The scientists are already aware of this threat. They know we won’t evade it – so, we have to get prepared. The new class of algorithms of the so-called post-quantum cryptography is already in work. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has already winnowed a set of 26 such algorithms. The goal is to develop new standards of digital security to parry the quantum attacks.
These algorithms are “prototypes,” but the extensive testing should answer to the main question: will these keys protect the data in the real world? They will have to work on all devices, from large computers to microchips. The next 12 months should prove their sustainability or make the researchers find a different solution.
The Quantum Future
What if the quantum computers could replace the classical machines and just perform their functions? Will this difference mean so much to transfer the world onto a new level?
Most likely, it will be so. Computers already regulate our lives. Every smallest feature of the urban environment that we take by default and can’t even think of being without it relies on the power of computers. Actually, this is the reason why the humanity needs much more powerful machines – the system we all live in is too complex to manage it. Quantum computers, in their turn, would cope.
Imagine you get up earlier and breath the fresh air – the quantum computers will help to invent eco-friendly fuel. New materials invented thanks to these machines will replace the current plastic in the room. Then you will go to work – the cars will become lighter and faster. Will they be able to fly? Possibly. We will need updated traffic rules to regulate the vehicles moving in the air. Have you already imagined the classical case of crossing the intersection from several dozens of directions? Let’s hope that the quantum computers will be able to develop these rules, apply them to the traffic in a megapolis, and ensure that the cars will obey them.
People will be able to focus on interesting and creative tasks, as the AI will take all the routine on it. And, of course, they will discuss the latest news of pharmacology – which new cure comes to the market to beat the next ex-incurable disease.
You might think it’s Utopia. May be. But the possibilities that the quantum computers may open for us will be able to change the entire life on the Earth.
The future with quantum computing might look like an illustration from the science fiction story. It would be a world more organized, faster, and more responsive. But would it overcome the chaotic nature of humanity? The discoveries the scientists make every day just prove that the more we learn, the more remains unknown. And, perhaps, we’ll have longer before we can play Call of Duty on the quantum smartphone.
Picture by Joshua Sortino https://unsplash.com/photos/LqKhnDzSF-8