Is Quantum The Future of Computing?

The traditional computer is rapidly nearing the physical limitation of its computing power. Although we’re building processors, motherboards and other forms of computing technology to a finer degree than we ever have possibly imagined just a few years ago, the scientists and engineers behind all this are starting to hit the point where the next generation of computing needs to begin.

It has long been established that the evolution of the computer processor lies in the semi-exotic realm of quantum computing. Such advances are said to be in the order of, on average, 3,600 times faster than a standard, modern computer. The exact formula, according to Quantum Mechanics, relative to a standard computer is 2^(xb/1 byte), where X is the RAM and B is one byte.

What this actually means is well beyond what most of us really care; in all honesty, as long as the computer powers up, we can work on it, play on it and surf the internet then 99.9% of the computing population of the planet are perfectly happy. But the only reason we can enjoy such pleasures is down to the people who care about bits, bytes and everything else in between.

The Quantum Computer

How a quantum computer works over a traditional one can be a long, and very drawn out explanation, but to simplify it somewhat we’ll try and explain it as we understand it.

A traditional computer uses bits, of which there can be only one of two states, either a 1 or a 0, this much we already know. A quantum computer though operates slightly differently. The quantum processor effectively continually uses a sequence of Qubits, a quantum bit, that can be 0, 1, anything in between, or both exactly the same at once; so each bit has the potential to be any of four different states, or all states at once, or any linear combination of the possible states; think of it in terms of 00, 01, 10, 11, the four possible states between off and on. It’s the exotic nature of the qubit, and the fact that it can be any one of a number of different states that makes it such a complex, and unquestionably powerful leap in computing. To add to all that, there’s also a theory that the quantum bits could potentially be every possible state at the same time, but this is a highly contestable element to physics.

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Naturally this is a very simplistic example of a qubit, a single one. Should you then start to use pairs of qubits, then the possible states that they can be in falls into the realms of controversial physics. In this instance, a pair of qubits are able to create Entanglement, which is when the photons interfere with each other and share their quantum state – an interaction that can continue even when they are nowhere near each other. This possibly means that the state of one qubit will result in the instantaneous changing of the state on the other entangled qubit. Apparently, this is even theoretically possible if both qubits where located on opposite ends of the universe – thus breaking all the natural laws of physics, speed of light and so on; which in itself is so mind-boggling that even old Albert E was known to scratch his capacious cranium over. This theory is also the ground basis of teleportation, but rather than looking at it from the transportation of matter from place to another i.e. teleporting a human, it is instead the ‘teleportation’ of data that is of more interest to the quantum scientists, as it would mean data could be instantly written and read by two separate components.

Needless to say, quantum computing can do much more at once, than a traditional computer would ever be capable of. The result of course is a computer that is able to ‘compute’ incredibly fast. But, it’s worth noting that current quantum technology still has a long way to go before the scientific community can fully appreciate and enjoy the immense potential speeds available. If we look at our current state in quantum computing, and compare it to a timeline of traditional computing, then we are barley at the Intel 8088 stages.

Quantum Clouds

However, despite our gaps in knowledge regarding the peculiarities of the quantum realm, there are significant advances being made almost on a daily basis.

Recently, Amazon has decided to dip its toes into the quantum pool. But rather than taking on the likes of Google or IBM, and building their own quantum computer, the company is instead partnering with three of the current leading firms in the field of quantum computing.

Through a new service called Amazon Braket, customers will be able to plug algorithms into quantum processors from D-Wave Systems, Rigetti Computing and IonQ. Each of the aforementioned future technology developers takes a slightly different approach to creating their quantum processors. Both Rigetti and D-Wave use superconducting qubits, whereas IonQ uses trapped ions manipulated by a laser as a quantum bit.

Since each of these systems uses a different approach to quantum computing, Amazon’s approach has the appearance of seeing which of the three will eventually come out as the more effective and efficient use of the technology. And due to the fact that hosting a quantum computer is somewhat an expensive affair, Amazon’s choice will ultimately keep the cost down for developers who want to see how quantum computing will affect their businesses.

It’s reasonable to assume that rather than suddenly being able to nip into the high street and buying a quantum desktop PC, our first entanglement (excuse the pun) of the quantum CPU will be held within the cloud. This does open up some interesting possibilities, though. Take for example the recent Stadia release, and the upcoming Xcloud project from Microsoft. Both will herald a new generation of cloud-based gaming, using a minimal setup at home and drawing on the processing power of the cloud to deliver games to millions of TVs around the world. At present, the technology works reasonably well, despite a few hiccups here and there, but imagine what could be done should the power of a quantum computer be fully realised?

Quantum cloud computing also opens up many possibilities for science, engineering, education and even further forms of entertainment. Being able to dip into the immense processing power of a quantum computer will enable greater data modelling, better AI, and faster, more realistic world building.

The 21st Century Computer

Quantum computing, in the same way as we appreciate traditional computing, is still some distance off. And getting your head around the complexities of what the quantum elements of the processor, and the actual physics behind it are can lead to a frustrating level of confusion.

The truth be told, the actual functioning of the quantum processor is lost on all but the most dedicated of enthusiast; after all, how many of us actually consider the inner workings of the current CPU we are handling and manipulating into the motherboard?

In real world terms the quantum computer will offer us the kind of computing science fiction writers have only ever dreamed of, and access to Amazon Braket is one of the first steps to achieving this dream.

Now, then, would be a good time to get the next generation of computer enthusiasts interested in quantum technologies, and what better way than to involve them directly in the physical environment of Amazon Braket.

David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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