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What is quantum computing, how do quantum computers work?

By Academy Xi

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Quantum Theory explains the nature and behaviour of matter and energy on the microscopic atomic and subatomic levels. Combine this with computers and what do you get? Read on to learn about the world of quantum computing.

We have founding fathers Neils Bohr and Max Planck to thank for Quantum Theory, who were Nobel Prize winners in physics for their tireless efforts. Using their findings and theory, computer systems are being drastically improved to perform complex tasks far beyond what is already possible.

Many big players are committing significant resources to the development of quantum computers. IBM built the first circuit-based commercial quantum computer back in 2019, with Google claiming their own quantum creation was operating beyond supercomputer parameters around the same time. The race is on.

What is Quantum computing?

what is quantum computing

Essentially, quantum computing is a topic in IT study which is looking at the development of technology focused on the principles of Quantum Theory.

Quantum Theory:

A theory of matter and energy based on the concept of quanta, especially quantum mechanics.

And what does the ‘concept of quanta’ mean exactly? Let’s pop back to the 1900’s for a brief moment. Planck made the assumption that energy existed in individual units, as matter does, not just as a constant electromagnetic wave, so it was therefore quantifiable. He called these units quanta

Using the laws and principles of quantum theory, quantum computers can be used to solve complex problems that are too detailed for a regular computer to handle and they can do it at a serious pace.

How does a quantum computer work?

Traditional computers that we use day-to-day operate using known, definite measures. The operations are generally binary, which means they are based on two states – these could be on or off, up or down. Each binary unit, 1’s and 0’s, are known as a ‘bit’. 

When it comes to quantum computing, instead of operations using a ‘bit’ they use the quantum state of objects to create a ‘qubit’. Unlike a bit, a qubit is based on unknown measures that are undefined. 

Calculations are performed based on the probability of an object’s state. These calculations occur before the object is measured. The complex maths behind unknown and undefined measures is plugged into algorithms which rapidly generate solutions.

Uses and benefits of quantum computing

The major draw cards for quantum computers is the speed at which they can operate and the complexity of the problems they are able to solve. When we say speed, we’re talking calculations that can be conducted in a few seconds that would potentially take a traditional computer decades to solve, or longer. 

Any industry that is faced with complex problems can take advantage of this technology. Some companies already using quantum computing include:

  • IBM – machine learning and artificial intelligence 
  • Rigetti Computing – weather prediction
  • ProteinQure – drug research and discovery 
  • Volkswagen AG – automotive 
  • IonQ – sustainable energy

Potential downsides to quantum computers

Nothing is perfect. Quantum computers, while super speedy and able to work on complex problems, are still in the prototype stage for the most part and are expensive. Error rates are still reportedly high and research and development continues. The threat of cyber security breaches is all too real, as with any computer network, so solutions on this front are also being tried and tested.

Types of quantum computers

types of quantum computers

At this point in time, there are three types of quantum computers:

  • Quantum Annealer

This is easier to build of the three, but unfortunately also the weakest. Traditional computers can outperform the Annealer for everyday tasks (emails and gaming, for example), but the Annealer shines when it comes to its prowess with crazy large numbers, enabling it to break encryption and solve challenging optimisation issues.

  • Analog Quantum computer

This variety is where mainstream computer companies are heading when it comes to developing quantum computers for the consumer market. The analog quantum computer, without question, outperforms traditional computers on speed and will become the first quantum computer to drastically outperform our current models.

  • Universal Quantum computer 

The most powerful of the three types, the universal is also the most complex to create. Large scale quantities of energy are needed to operate them, as is cryogenic cooling to ensure that the optimal temperature is maintained to run effectively. 

How to get into tech and data

Before you can work with quantum computing, you first need to break into the world of tech and data. Learning while you train with practical, hands-on courses is the fastest way to get into these industries. Whether you’re looking to upskill to amplify your existing abilities, or seeking a new career path completely, building a solid foundation is paramount. 

Academy Xi offers both Software Engineering and Data Analytics courses, which will equip you with the essential skills and a stand-out portfolio.

If you have any questions, our experienced team is here to discuss your training options. Speak to a course advisor today and take the first steps in your tech and data journey.

Not sure which course is right for you? Chat to a course advisor and we’ll help you find the perfect match.