During these couple of years, quantum computers have been in the media spotlight. It is predicted that this technology will uplift all industries, in the economic, manufacturing, medical, and various sectors. An example is weather forecasts which involves complex mathematical calculations and numerous factors that even today’s best supercomputers find it difficult to precisely forecast the weather within a short period of time. However, highly efficient quantum computers are able to calculate at great speed, thus, making the forecasts are more efficient. A recent study by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China and Origin Quantum Computing Company Limited showed that a mere 65 qubits quantum computer may have a processing power that is greater than today’s best supercomputers. As a result, global tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and Alibaba are competing with R&D in order to become the leader in this technology. Yet, some readers may wonder, what are quantum computers and how do they function?
Before learning about quantum computers, let us take a look at the quantum theory. It is a physics theory that explains the natural law at the level of a molecule, atom or an even smaller system. The natural law at this level very much differs from what we are familiar with. An example is that a single particle can exist in multiple spaces at the same time. Quantum computer is a new computer technology whose data processing relies on the quantum phenomenon. Aside from the remarkable data processing ability, the need for quantum computers derives from an attempt to create more efficient computer chips. In 1965, Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder and former executive, observed that every 2 years, computer chips will be 50% cheaper while the number of transistors on the chip doubles. It has been over 50 years and Moore’s law has proven to be quite accurate. Moreover, as the transistors reduced greatly in size, they revealed their quantum feature. This is partly the reason and necessity that began the application of the quantum theory to computers.
In principles, quantum computers have the ability to complete tasks more efficiently than today’s computers because of the different data processing ability at the primary level. Additionally, we have mentioned about the size of the quantum computer in a qubit unit. Qubit is a basic data storage unit in quantum computers similar to the bit in conventional computers. The status of the qubit can simultaneously be “1” and “0” and it can deliver results to one another at great speed. These quantum phenomena are called the superposition and entanglement. The calculation speed in quantum computers partly derives from the ability to process all the possible factors at the same time. In the process, it will automatically eliminate the possibilities that will not be the final results while in today’s computers, it will only process one value at a time. For instance, search from a large database such as searching a phone number or identification number in the population database. Today’s computers will search every single number until it is found while highly efficient quantum computers (with the qubit that is enough to efficiently process data) can search by simultaneously accessing all the data at once which will result in a much quicker search. Moreover, high-performance quantum computers are good at solving optimization problems (finding the best and most resource-saving solution from all feasible solutions). These are complex problems that exist in different aspects of life and the best solution means a massive change. An example is designing a stock market investment method that will provide the highest return, how many stocks should be invested and with what proportion within a specific budget. Another example is a solution to manage a city’s traffic. At present, there is a pilot project to improve Beijing’s traffic. This is a quantum calculation collaboration between Google, D-Wave, and Volkswagen. Also, Airbus is initiating research on the best wings for an airplane by using quantum calculations. Quantum computers have the ability to search and solve optimization problems that exceed general computers. This has brought about forecasts that this technology will bring AI speed beyond the abilities of computers today. Another important issue and was the original idea to use quantum principles in computers is the study of the phenomenon at the atomic and molecules level. This includes simulating chemical structures to help synthesize new materials or study chemical formulas for medical purposes. Moreover, the study involves simulating protein folding. Protein reactions depend on the folding; thus, the study of protein folding patterns will result in faster and more precise speculation of protein attributes. Hopefully, this will lead to findings for causes and treatments of diseases. At present, the solution to protein folding problems requires time. It is estimated that with general computers, these solutions may require a calculation time longer than the age of the universe before successfully producing medicine from proteins.
Currently, tech firms are beginning to build their own quantum computers. IBM owns a 50-qubit quantum chip while Google has a 72-qubit. Rigetti, a rookie startup, is building a 128-qubit chip. Some companies are allowing general users to experiment with their quantum computers for free via the cloud system. For instance, IBM Q Experience is a user-friendly cloud service where users can begin their study via a web interface. If users want to code by themselves, IBM also has Qiskit in Python that can connect to quantum computers. This makes data processing more convenient and it is simpler to experiment and study the possibility of quantum computer applications.
We hope that readers get a clearer picture of quantum computers and how this technology can change the world. However, today’s quantum computer development is still in the initial stage. One important factor that is still a big problem for researchers worldwide is how to make the system stable and controllable. The quantum system is greatly sensitive as environmental change and noises can easily affect the calculations. The study to prevent noises has become the main problem that slows the development. However, there are efforts to seek solutions on how to utilize the currently unstable system and create benefits that exceed today’s supercomputers.
Story by the QuTE, R&D finalist from U.REKA.
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