Many of us have heard about the promise of “quantum computing”; it’s something we’ve all been warned about, but not many people understand what it means.
The idea is simple: use powerful computers to solve difficult problems much faster than conventional models can manage, which would make everything from online banking to search and medical diagnosis easier, cheaper and safer.
It’s an exciting prospect—and it’s one that actually seems pretty close to happening. Much more research will be needed before we can claim with any degree of certainty how useful quantum computing will be in practice, but there are a number of reasons why we should take notice.
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing is a concept that grew out of research into super-fast logical operations performed by super-powerful computers. The basic idea is that rather than carrying out logical operations on data points in a conventional computer, which takes up space and electricity, you could perform these operations on the quantum computer’s state, which takes very little space and no power.
You can see this in action by thinking about two bits of information as being “attached” to the computer. If you want to find out what that state is, you can send a single pulse of light through the computer and then look at the resulting wave pattern to check whether the two bits have “paired” (or “won’t-pair”) together.
If they have, you can know with high confidence that the computer’s state is the one you want. This process is known as “quantum computing,” and it’s not just science-fiction writers who imagine a day when computers can perform these operations better than anyone has ever done before.
How Does Quantum Computing Work?
In order to understand how quantum computing works, we need to first understand how computers work. A computer is made up of many different types of parts, some of which are more important than others.
The bits (or 0s and 1s) that make up a computer’s memory are the most important part, and they’re what make it work. The memory itself is made up of “cells,” each of which is the equivalent of a single bit.
When you want to write a single bit to the computer’s memory, you first load it into a cell. Then, when you want to read that cell, you send a pulse of light through the computer and then look at the resulting wave pattern to check whether the bit you want is “on” or “off” (or “0” and “1”).
This basic concept is what underlies all further processing, such as encryption and authentication, which are necessary but “in between” steps.
Potential Benefits of Quantum Computing
Like any new technology, the potential benefits of quantum computing will be limited until we understand its principles better. Many of the most exciting uses of this technology are in the fields of physics and mathematics, where the results have far-reaching implications for everything we understand about the universe.
One of the most exciting uses of quantum computing is in cryptography, which is the process of secret writing or number-handling that uses math to create and verify secure messages.
This field is also expanding, thanks to advances in quantum cryptography. With these technologies, it’s now possible to create secure communications with an average level of encryption strength of about 50 bits (that’s about the same strength that Quantum-encrypted communication achieved in 1992). There are many others, both scientific and engineering, which will follow.
When Will You Use Quantum Computing?
Unlike conventional computers, which are designed for a specific application, such as running spreadsheets or word-processing applications, a quantum computer is “open-ended.” This means that it can perform any operation that can be done with a computer, no matter what the problem might be.
For example, while a conventional computer needs to be programmed to solve complex math equations, a quantum computer can be programmed to solve any problem.
This makes quantum computing ideal for machine-learning applications, in which a computer can be trained to solve new problems by itself. As these computers are “open-ended,” you can simply buy more of them and try new, different problems until you find the one you want to solve.
Final Words: The Future of Computation
Computer science is moving quickly, and we’re only at the beginning of this new era. We’re still figuring out how to best use computers to solve real-world problems and accomplish our daily tasks, but we’re on the right track.
With each new development, we seem to get closer and closer to the day when computers will be as intelligent as people and can think like us. This stage of computer intelligence will likely result in machines that are even more efficient and accurate than the best humans can achieve.
It’s likely that computers will eventually match or exceed human intelligence on a broad range of tasks, and then some. In the meantime, the best computer scientists are working to make computers as accurate and efficient as possible. The closer computers come to human intelligence, the more useful they will be to us.