One of the more intriguing research areas in technology is quantum computing. While today’s computers are based upon electronic components, primarily the transistor, quantum computers actually leverage atoms and molecules to represent data and perform functions on it. In this computing environment, Moore’s Law, which describes how the number of transistors on a microprocessor doubles every 18 months, seems better suited to explain an abacus.
While laboratory scientists have built a small quantum computer in the lab, something practical for business is years, possibly decades away. Still, that long timeframe didn’t stop Google buying a quantum computer from D-Wave, a company specializing in this futuristic technology.
Bits are now Qubits in Quantum Computing
The primary piece of data on today’s computer is a bit, which can be defined as either a one or zero. In a quantum computer, the equivalent of a bit is known a quantum bit; shortened to qubit. A qubit exists in superposition, that is, it can be either a one or zero or some complex value between the two.
A Bloch Sphere serves as another way to understand a qubit. In this sphere the North Pole represents zero, while the South Pole represents one. A qubit can also hold the value of anywhere else on — or within — the sphere. It make sense that matter at the atomic level is the stuff that makes up the processing “circuitry” in a quantum computer.
The bottom line derived from all this advanced quantum mathematics is that a quantum computer offers the parallelism to perform millions of calculations simultaneously; today’s computers perform calculations one at a time. The scientific applications from this kind of processing simply boggle the mind. Supposedly, Google purchased their quantum computer to be able to quickly detect a car in an image — possibly for use in their robotic automobiles of the future.
Applications for Quantum Computing
For today’s managed service provider, Moore’s Law still holds relevance for the next decade or two. D-Wave used one of their first designs — a 16 qubit computer — to solve sudoku puzzles and other pattern-matching exercises. The first non-laboratory applications of quantum computers will probably follow a similar path: finding patterns in DNA in the medical field; foolproof encryption techniques in the security field, the fastest database searches ever, and similar pattern detection logic.
Many scientists still feel we won’t see real-world uses for quantum computing until the latter half of the 21st Century; they feel the nascent technology still resides in a largely theoretical state. One possibility is that those things that are commonplace in science fiction movies — warp drives, transporter beams, etc. — will someday depend on quantum computers in their design and manufacturing. A pathway to that future is something that now can be truly imagined.
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