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Introduction to quantum computing

date: 8 August 2017
reading time: 3 min

You may have recently heard of quantum computing. What is it? How does it compare with computers as we know them?

What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing is where computer science and quantum physics meet.

Traditional computing – from our own laptop, tablet and mobile phone to a supercomputer – is based on transistors and relies on the encoding of information in bits: where the 0s and the 1s are arranged in combinations. This has its limitations in relation to computing power.

This is where quantum physics comes in. While on the large scale particles behave rather predictably, on the nanoscale their state is more irregular. In the quantum state, subatomic particles can achieve superposition, which in simple terms means that the nanoparticles can exist in multiple states at the same time. This is the magic of quantum computers – they run on qubits (quantum bits) which can be a 1, a 0, or a 1 and a 0 simultaneously.

The potential computing power of quantum computers has not been seen before. Where a traditional computer can work on one problem at a time, a quantum computer is able to process millions of problems at once.

Where are we with quantum computing?

Even though the beginnings of quantum computing can be traced back to 1980s (Richard Feynman’s work), it was only this year that the MIT was ready to name it a breakthrough technology of the year in its MIT Technology Review. So why has it taken researchers so long to develop the technology?

Well, the simple answer is that quantum technology is extremely complex and surprisingly rather delicate. Qubits require conditions free of disruption such as electric fields or vibration, since their value comes from when they achieve superposition and entanglement – the pairing of qubit which makes it affect one another even after separation. In addition to this, experts in quantum computing are rather scarce.

Yet, quantum computing has now surpassed the stage of being confined to academic theory and the start-up environment. It has recently been getting some serious investment with the last 3 years seeing $147 million in venture capital and $2.2 billion in government funding globally, according to Deloitte.

Companies like Google, IBM and Microsoft have already made significant advances in the field. According to the MIT, Google researchers said that by the end of 2017 they will be able to demonstrate the “quantum supremacy” over current supercomputers, while IBM have launched IBM Q, described as the ‘industry-first initiative to build commercially available universal quantum computers for business and science’.

Work around the world is underway to explore the potential of quantum machines. Look out for our next blog post which will discuss some possible applications for these revolutionary machines.

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