Companies like IBM or Google have already unveiled the first quantum computers in history. This technological innovation represents an advance comparable to that of the arrival of the first computers in the mid-20th century.
As its name indicates, quantum computing may seem like another advancement in traditional computing, but that’s not the truth; this is a technology radically different from the one used in our computers. It will take time for quantum computing to reach the home environment precisely because of this.
However, that does not prevent quantum computing from having a large number of applications that we will discover. We’ll explain what quantum computing is, and what uses will be given to it in the near future.
What is quantum computing?
To understand how quantum computing works, it is helpful to remember how classical computing works. A traditional computer uses a binary system, based on the bit as the fundamental unit of information. That means that all the elements of the computer translate the electrical impulse into 1, if the voltage is high, or 0 if it is low or null.
This system makes it possible to represent numbers and perform different logical operations with them. However, it has a fundamental limitation: the numbers do not change by themselves, but each of them must be deliberately changed by a mathematical operation, which consumes energy and time.
Quantum computing introduces a very important quantitative leap: the minimum unit is the qubit, which can have a value of 1, 0 or both at the same time in different percentages (for example, 1 to 60% and 0 to 40%). This allows a great variety of intermediate states, which are achieved through processes such as superposition or entanglement. These processes make it possible to perform calculations beyond the capabilities of a classical computer.
The main advantage of quantum computers is the optimization of data processing. In fact, quantum computing will not replace classical computers, but will be combined with them in a hybrid structure: the traditional computing device can send data and instructions to the quantum computer, which processes the data at high speed and returns it.
Applications of quantum programming are virtually endless. Disciplines such as chemistry, medicine, logistics, economics and agriculture will benefit from the processing and calculation of complex data at high speed. Another field in which it will become vitally important will be artificial intelligence and online security: the power of a quantum computer will allow technological devices to analyze data and react to it much faster.
Origin of quantum computing
Although the first practical applications of quantum computing are very recent, they are all based on quantum physics, a theory that developed over the past century. Albert Einstein and Max Planck observed that light does not propagate in a continuous wave, but in several different sets or quanta. Subsequent quantum mechanical investigations found that these units overlap, resulting in several physical states overlapping simultaneously.
Although superposition made it possible to conceive a quantum computer in the mid-20th century, another problem arose: Quantum physics showed that there were intermediate states, but classical computing would always read them as bits. Using the example above, a traditional computer would process a qubit from 1 to 60% and 0 to 40% and interpret it as 1.
What allowed the development of quantum computing was entanglement. This process allowed the discovery of Shor’s algorithm and quantum temper, which sped up the calculation of minimum values and prime factors. This makes the computer capable of encrypting intermediate states and processing data at high speed.
Differences between usual computing and quantum computing
We have already explored some differences between classical and quantum computing: the basic unit they use, the language derived from them, and the speed of processing. These factors lead to radical differences in application: quantum computing is capable of executing algorithms that a classical computer would take thousands of years to perform, unless it had unlimited memory.
Quantum computers differ fundamentally in their operation, as well as in their construction: IBM’s quantum computer is a device kept in glass and covered in cables, and it does not have conventional devices such as screens or keyboards. There are two reasons for this: First, they are currently able only to process information, so they do not require an interface. Secondly, they work under very strict conditions: they require a temperature of -273 ° C and have superconducting components.
Progress and Challenges in Quantum Computing
Considering the difficulty of building and maintaining a quantum computer, it is clear that the widespread application of this new technology will take a few more years. However, there have already been some significant advances in quantum computing: the first quantum computer was introduced in 1998, and Shor’s algorithm was run for the first time only three years later.
At the beginning of this century, the D-Wave company was at the forefront of progress in quantum computing: in 2007 it managed to execute quantum tempering with 16 qubits, and that same year it introduced a 2000 qubit computer. IBM has already introduced devices capable of running other algorithms, so we can expect new milestones to be achieved in the coming years.
However, a number of challenges facing quantum computing today need to be addressed first. Quantum computers have a very limited calculation time after which the information will lose its precision. This is because qubits are very unreliable and easily miscalculated. Furthermore, the hybrid technology between classical and quantum computing requires the development of quantum algorithms, before which it will be difficult for technological advances to be applied to common devices.
In summary, it appears that quantum computing will only be available to companies that perform computationally expensive calculations. For example, companies such as Google and Microsoft will use them to develop machine learning or replicate biochemical processes, and security agencies will use them to decipher encrypted codes and increase security. Ordinary users will need to wait before seeing any results in their homes, but the exponential growth of quantum computing is very promising.