The quick low-down on quantum computers

Quantum Computing

In 1929 IBM created custom-built tabulators for Columbia University, this was the first time the world was introduced to the word ‘supercomputer’. With us being just a few years shy of its 100-year anniversary I thought I would have a look at what is going to shape the next 100 years in technology?

If you’re as nerdy as I am you’ve probably heard of quantum computers. And if you’re like most people in tech, you’ve probably been trying to figure out what on earth they’re all about, so I’m here to shed some light on this enormous endeavour. 

How computers work currently 

Currently computers compute information with 1’s and 0’s. Various combinations of the 1’s and 0’s represent various values; these are called bits. These 1’s and 0’s correspond to electrical values of on and off. Because bits are so small, you rarely work with information one bit at a time. To put things in perspective 8-bit processors were widely used in the 1970’s with the massively popular Intel 8080. 

Qubits, unlike traditional computing bits, can exist as either 0s or 1s, or as a mixture of both.

This powerhouse was able to compute 8-bit data words and 16-bit addresses. Also released, was the Nintendo Entertainment System which offered gamers 8 bits of graphical power! This evolution continued with 16, 32 and 64-bit processors with 64 bits being the peak of current computing capability. So, this is where we are today, but what about tomorrow?

Quantum Computing 

Quantum computers use quantum mechanics to help solve problems that traditional computers struggle with. These complex problems are solved with the help of a quantum processor, not much bigger than a standard PC unit, but require a much more complex cooling system. 

One of the biggest hurdles currently facing quantum computing is the cooling required. Processors must operate at extremely low temperatures, about -270°C to fully utilise superconducting qubits. 

In quantum computing, quantum bits or qubits, form the basics of how these computers work. These qubits can be made from quantum-mechanical systems that can have two states. For example, the spin of an electron can be measured as up or down, or a single photon is either vertically or horizontally polarised.

Qubits, unlike traditional computing bits, can exist as either 0s or 1s, or as a mixture of both. As a result of this phenomenon, known as a state of superposition, every combination of information occurs simultaneously. By combining qubits, it is possible to represent complex problems much easier than with traditional computing methods due to their ability to hold all possible configurations of information at once.

What are the possibilities of Quantum Computing?

Google claimed quantum supremacy when they felt they’d created a machine more powerful than any supercomputer. Physicist John Martinis and Google have achieved a world-first by using a quantum computer to carry out calculations that are beyond the practical capabilities of regular, ‘classical’ machines. 

Google estimates that even the best classical supercomputer would take 10,000 years to complete the same calculation. This processing power has the possibility to revolutionise how we solve daily problems and how we think about more complex issues. From weather forecasts to molecular modelling scientists are already planning how they can harness this new power. 

So, I hope I’ve given you a great dinner party conversation starter that is super interesting…or super confusing… it depends on how long your poor neighbour will bear to listen to you explaining quantum computers.

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