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.
Essentially, quantum computing is a topic in IT study which is looking at the development of technology focused on the principles of 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.
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.
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:
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.
At this point in time, there are three types of quantum computers:
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.
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.
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.
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