A quantum computers promises to deliver upon some of the almost-mystical phenomena of quantum mechanics so as to make way for huge leaps forward in the world of processing power. These quantum machines promise to deliver and dominate even the most capable supercomputers that we have in our possession today.
While of course the leaps that we will witness with respect to quantum computing would be unheard of, they won’t exactly wipe out the more conventional computers. Indeed making use of a classical machine will still indeed be the most economical solution for tackling most problems. However, quantum computers promises to deliver upon exciting advances in various fields – ranging from materials science to pharmaceuticals research. Indeed companies are already on course to experiment with them so as to develop things such as lighter as well as more powerful batteries for cars as well as help create novel drugs.
So what’s the working principle of quantum computers and what do they rely on? Well, in rather simpler terms, the secret that beholds a quantum computer’s power actually lies in its ability to generate as well as manipulate quantum bits – which are also sometimes termed as qubits.
What is a qubit?
The computers that we have in our possession today use bits – which are actually a stream of electrical or indeed optical pulses that represent either 1 or 0. Everything ranging from the likes of your tweets, to the likes of your emails as well as you iTunes songs essentially are represented by long strings of such binary digits.
On the other hand, Quantum computers actually make use of qubits. Qubits happen to be subatomic particles such as photons or electrons. The generation as well as the management of qubits is indeed a scientific and engineering challenge in itself. Big companies including the likes of IBM, Google and Rigetti Computing proceed on to use superconducting circuits that happen to be cooled at temperatures which are colder than that of deep space. Others though, such as IonQ, make use of a process in which individual atoms are actually trapped in electromagnetic fields on a silicon chip in ultra-high-vacuum chambers. Indeed in both these cases, the goal is to isolate the qubits in a rather controlled quantum state.
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Qubits make way with some rather quirky properties. This refers to the fact that a connected group of the same can actually go on and provide way more processing power than the same number of binary bits. Amongst both these properties is included superposition and entanglement.
Qubits can actually represent numerous amounts of possible combinations of 1s and 0s at the very same time. This particular ability of being simultaneously in multiple states is known as superposition. In order to put the qubits into superposition, researchers manipulate them via the aid of precision lasers or microwave beams.
Courtesy of this counterintuitive process, a quantum computer which actually has several qubits in superposition does indeed have the ability to crunch through a rather vast number of potential outcomes – all this in a simultaneous manner. The final result of a calculation emerges only when the qubits are measured – this resulting in an immediate collapse of their quantum state – to either 1 or 0.
Researchers have also shown that they can actually generate pairs of qubits that happen to be “entangled.” This refers to the fact that the two members of a pair actually exist in a single quantum state. The change of state of one of the qubits will result in an instantaneous change of the other one in a rather predictable way. This happens even if they are separated by very long distances.
As to how entanglement actually works – we’re still pretty much in the dark. Indeed even the great Einstein was baffled by its working principle, who famously termed it as “spooky action at a distance.” Nonetheless, while we may not fully understand how entanglement works, it does represent the key to the power of quantum computers. In conventional computing, doubling the number of bits means that the processing power is also doubled. However, courtesy of entanglement, adding extra qubits to a quantum machine actually goes on to produce an exponential increase in its number crunching ability.
Quantum computers actually harness entangled qubits in a kind of quantum daisy chain so as to work their magic. The machines’ ability to speed up calculations via the aid of specially designed quantum algorithms is perhaps the reason why there is so much buzz about their potential in the first place.
Where will they be used?
Perhaps one of the most promising applications – if not the most promising application of quantum computers happens to be for stimulating the behavior of matter down to a molecular level. Auto manufacturers such as Volkswagen as well as Daimler are actually using quantum computers so as to stimulate the chemical composition of electrical-vehicle batteries in order to help find new ways to improve their performance.
Pharmaceutical companies too are getting into the act as they are leveraging them so as to both analyze as well as compare compounds that can at the end of the day lead towards the creation of entirely new drugs.
These machines are also great for the optimization of problems because of the fact that they can crunch through vast number of potential solutions in an extremely fast manner. The prime example of such comes in the form of Airbus, who is using them to help calculate the most fuel-efficient ascent and descent paths for aircraft. Volkswagen too has come up with a service that actually goes on to calculate the optimal routes for buses and taxis in cities so as to minimize congestion. Some researchers have also gone on to claim that these machines could end up accelerating the application of artificial intelligence as a whole and hence could help with the implementation process.