The future of computing
One of the most fascinating prospects of the future is a quantum computer. Probably some of you will be thinking: “Wait, what?” Yes, a quantum computer, a processing miracle. The processing power of just one quantum computer already exceeds the processing power of all computers that we have right now! This is all made possible by quantum mechanics, which operates under some pretty crazy conditions. At this point of reading, you might still not have the slightest clue of what is going on here, so let’s try to explain more in detail, without going in too much detail.
Let’s start with the computers we have right now. These computers, based on transistors, require data to be encoded into bits, which can have a state of 0 or 1. This basically means that the traditional computers calculate the same way as we do, but instead they can do it way faster.
Quantum computers on the other hand operate with qubits, or quantum bits, which can be in superpositions of states. So instead of being just 0, or just 1, they can be both 0 and 1, and all values in between, at the same time! The qubit could be, for example, twenty percent 1 and eighty percent 0 at the same time, which basically represent the odds. If you would explore that qubit, 8 out of 10 times you would find the qubit at 0, and just 2 out of 10 times at 1.
- The linear line represents the superposition a qubit appears in.
Combining this with one more term, entanglement, which basically represents a ‘mysterious connection between the parts of a qubit’. To keep it simple, if you measure one part of a qubit, both parts of the qubit will return to their original state. So measuring one part unveils all the parts!
Let’s frame this into a visual example, called ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’. This example is about a cat in a box with a bottle of poison. The box is closed, so without opening the box you won’t know whether the cat is alive or not. This can be seen as a superposition: basically, the cat is dead and alive at the same time. You, the observer, will become ‘entangled’ once you open the box. Your observation will correspond with the cat’s state. Therefore you (part 1) will trigger the cat’s state (part 2). If you observed the cat as being dead, the cat is dead. If you observed the cat as being alive, the cat is alive.
So, coming to the point, quantum computers can perform numerous calculations at the same time, with all potential inputs, while normal computers will perform these numerous calculations in sequential order. To visualize this, imagine there is a warehouse with 20 doors, behind one of these doors is a treasure chest. Our current computer will open these doors one by one, as fast as possible, until it finds the treasure chest. Whereas the quantum computer will open all these doors at the same time!
The reason why this is still atleast 10 to 20 years away is because of the unstable state of these qubits (quanta in normal quantum mechanics), researchers have been able to perform processes with these qubits, but they haven’t been able to stabilize the states for a longer period of time however..
It’s not easy to talk about quantum mechanics without going too technical….. So if you’re really interested in quantum computing (and therefore quantum mechanics), I would suggest you dig in the matter some more! Let’s move over to the real life implications of the technology, because that’s whats most interesting!
The exact implications of the quantum computer are hard to know beforehand. At the point of the creation of the http-protocol, to send data, who would’ve thought of Facebook?
But let’s start thinking in the future.
For example, weather predictions. The extreme power of quantum computers might enable us to reach a 100% certainty on weather conditions.
It can be huge for the pharmaceutical industry as well, the process of developing medicines is now mainly trial and error, because our computers right now would take forever to calculate solutions for missing parts. With quantum computers, these processes might be possible within weeks. Of course, this is still wishful thinking, but it could be possible in the nearby future.
The same goes for the finance world, the most difficult and comprehensive calculations would become possible with the enormous processing power of quantum computers.
Or moving over to Bitcoins, at the moment there are so-called ‘Bitcoin-factories’ that are already really dependent on the processing power of the computers. Therefore having Bitcoins as a normal currency is not realistic at all at the moment, but who knows, with quantum computing Bitcoins might revive?
As we are more and more into the Internet of Things, the amounts of data reach extreme amounts, and will grow to unbelievable amounts in the future. With quantum computers the possibilities in data analysis will be groundbreaking.
But as the title says ‘the future of computing’, we are still atleast 10 to 20 years away from the first practical quantum computers. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM are working hard to make these quantum computers work.
I wonder what your thoughts on this topic are, what are things you think will be possible with the enormous computing power of quantum computers?
I hope I provided some explanation towards this phenomenon, although it’s really hard to explain without digging into physics! Even for physicians, the seemingly unrealistic laws are still hard to comprehend..