As quantum computing slowly emerges, it has the power to reshape our world and redefine the boundaries of human potential, yet while everyone is talking about it, not many people actually understand it.
What are Quantum Computers and how do they work?
Despite many misconceptions, quantum computers are not necessarily faster than conventional computers, but they are much better at certain tasks. For example, a quantum computer is not going to replace an iphone, but it is better at analyzing vast quantities of data and combinations, which would take billions of years to solve using a classical computer.
The best way to describe quantum computing is through a simple analogy. In this case we are going to use cars and ships. Following that analogy, they are not cars that are faster, but they are ships, which are able to navigate a different terrain, in this case, water.
Everything All At Once
The way that traditional computers work can be simplified down to bits, which are made out of pieces of silicon, and there are thousands to millions of them on your regular device.
Bits can be in two states 0 or 1, which is the ‘ground state’ or the ‘excited’ state. Everything that you enter into the computer is then translated into a binary computer language, which is long combinations of 0’s and 1’s.
A quantum computer, on the other hand, is run on qubits (quantum bits), which are more complex than the ‘ground’ and ‘excited’ states. They work in a wave-like pattern. Each qubit has a probability to be 0 and 1 at the same time (e.g. 10% of 1 and 90% of 0), which is called the superposition.
The superposition means that a particle can exist in different states between 0 and 1 at the same time, with vast possibilities of outcomes upon measurement. When a quantum computer runs an algorithm, its qubits can be in a superposition of states.
However, the collapse of the superposition occurs when we measure the qubits, and we obtain a specific outcome based on probabilities.
Quantum computing can be compared to waves on the surface of water caused by two intersecting boats. The waves represent the superposition of different quantum states and the boat interactions represent quantum operations. Quantum computers leverage these wave-like interactions to process information, exploring a multitude of probabilities at the same time, rather than examining each possibility one by one.
For example, if we use a primitive 10-qubit computer, it could store 2 to the power of 10 (2^10) values in parallel. Using a classical computer to represent the probabilities of this entanglement would require 1,024 bits (2^10).
However, if we increased the number of qubits in the quantum chip to 100, where each qubit can represent a superposition of 0 and 1, it gives us 2^100 (approximately 1.27 x 10^30) possible states.
To represent the same number of states using classical bits, would require a staggering 1.27 x 10^30 classical bits, which is an astronomically large number and far beyond the capabilities of current classical computers.
That is why classical computers are too expensive and not scalable or realistic for simulating quantum mechanics.
Additionally, quantum computers can use another quantum mechanics property called entanglement. It's like having a pair of particles that become deeply connected, so that whatever happens to one twin particle instantaneously affects the other, no matter how far apart they are. This phenomenon allows for efficient communication and sharing of information between qubits in a highly efficient way.
Another remarkable phenomenon in quantum computing is quantum teleportation, where the quantum state of one qubit can be transferred to another qubit located at a distant location, without physically moving it.
Quantum computers can leverage entanglement to share and process information between qubits in a highly efficient way.
How are quantum computers created and stored?
A quantum computer needs to be operated at extremely cold temperatures to maintain the delicate quantum states of its qubits. This requirement arises from the inherent nature of quantum mechanics and the vulnerability of qubits to environmental disturbances.
Qubits are the building blocks of quantum computers and are highly sensitive to external influences. Even the slightest interaction with their surrounding environment can cause decoherence, which is the loss of quantum information and the degradation of quantum superposition states.
This decoherence hampers the reliability and accuracy of quantum computations. By cooling the quantum computer to near absolute zero temperatures (close to -273 degrees Celsius or -459 degrees Fahrenheit), scientists can minimize environmental noise and slow down the thermal vibrations that could disrupt the fragile quantum states.
This extreme cold temperature reduces the energy and motion of particles, allowing qubits to remain stable and coherent for longer periods.
What are the potential uses of quantum computing?
Quantum cryptography is completely changing cybersecurity by using quantum mechanics principles to secure data. Its advantage lies in unconditional security based on fundamental laws of physics, making it resistant to quantum computers.
Quantum key distribution (QKD) allows secure sharing of encryption keys, while its reliance on qubits enables detection of any tampering attempts. Quantum cryptography is being adopted globally, with applications like satellite-based QKD.
In addition to satellite-based QKD, researchers are working on other fascinating applications of quantum cryptography. One area is the quantum-secure blockchain technology, which has the potential to improve the security of digital transactions and communications.
By leveraging the power of quantum mechanics, these innovations make it nearly impossible for cybercriminals to undermine the confidentiality of sensitive information, due to the unpredictability of quantum encryption.
However, it's important to acknowledge that quantum cryptography is not without its challenges. The implementation of this technology requires specialized hardware, such as single-photon detectors and quantum memories, which can be both costly and difficult to manufacture. As the field is still in its early stages, more research is necessary to fully assess its capabilities and limitations.
Impact on Global Sustainable Development
Efficient and sustainable food delivery is a major challenge in the food value chain. Quantum computing can play a role in optimizing the supply chain, finding the most efficient routes from farms to consumers, and minimizing waste and carbon footprint associated with perishable goods.
Precision farming provided by quantum simulation, can improve the yield-to-inputs ratio in agriculture. By using quantum simulation to analyze plant genomes, it may become possible to identify crops with desirable features such as resistance to changing climate conditions or optimize crop production. This enables farmers to employ sustainable techniques and potentially restore agricultural land to its natural state.
Renewable Energy Sources
Another use of quantum computing is offering global access and availability of renewable energy sources worldwide. Quantum computing can play a significant role in achieving this objective by providing advanced simulation capabilities for industrial and materials science applications.
Quantum computing can be utilized in simulating battery designs, enabling researchers to optimize battery performance, capacity, and efficiency. This can lead to the development of more reliable and sustainable energy storage solutions, facilitating the integration of renewable energy into existing power grids.
Furthermore, quantum computing can contribute to the discovery of new materials, including superconductors, which exhibit zero electrical resistance and have the potential to improve energy transmission and storage.
By simulating the behavior and properties of these materials, researchers can accelerate their development and identify suitable candidates for efficient energy conversion and transmission systems.
Teleportation of Information
Scientists have proposed a new process called "counterportation" that could enable the transfer of information or shortcuts in the fabric of spacetime, resembling the idea of teleportation.
Unlike traditional teleportation, this process does not require pre-shared entanglement or communication between sender and receiver. Counterportation could potentially allow for interaction-free information transfer and pave the way for studying enduring mysteries of the universe, such as the nature of spacetime.
While the concept of wormholes connecting different points in spacetime has been theorized for a long time, their actual physical occurrence has not been observed or verified.
The field of quantum computing has opened up possibilities for exploring such ideas, and previous experiments have studied the behavior of theoretical wormholes and achieved sustained long-range quantum teleportation.
The development of counterportation would require the construction of a new type of quantum computer, but it holds the potential to provide evidence for the existence of a physical reality within the universe.
To conclude, quantum computing has incredible potential in the future to transform the way we plan and use resources on Earth, as well as help optimize operations in nearly every field, including medicine, agriculture, and the technology. However, due to its mysterious nature, humans are not yet capable of fully grasping its potential, and it will take many years for us to harness it and take advantage of the technology that we have discovered in a practical way.