As the 20th century gave way to the 21st and digital technology grew and accelerated, many people predicted the rise of quantum computing as inevitable. For years, experts preached that it was only a matter of time before these radical new means of processing information irrevocably changed the world. Some experts were even bold enough to proclaim the advent of quantum computing just over the horizon. It’s something we’d see in the immediate future, they claimed. For a while, we may even have noticed its uptick in popularity among magazines or in news cycles.
Now the topic seems to have disappeared, which raises the question: whatever happened to quantum computing? The short answer is nothing. The technology is alive and well. The longer answer is that developing and perfecting the technology is far more difficult than earlier experts imagined. In their optimism and awe, it’s possible that experts overhyped or oversold the feasibility of developing such revolutionary computing power quickly.
Quantum Mechanics and Computing
Quantum mechanics records and predicts phenomenon on imperceptible levels. They occur on the subatomic level. Physicists have long understood the difference between quantum mechanics and physics on a larger scale, and it’s long baffled them. Strange things occur on the quantum level. One thing, particle entanglement, was so strange that it prompted Albert Einstein to call it “spooky action at a distance.”
Where modern computers are operated on the same foundations are formal logic, quantum computing seeks to harness phenomena occurring on the quantum level and converting it to computer processing power. Such a feat wouldn’t be inconsequential. It would revolutionize the world in way we might not be able to imagine right now. It could help fuel a revolution far more important or useful than the Industrial Revolution or even the digital revolution itself.
The Race for Quantum Dominance
A lot is at stake in the race to develop quantum computing. Corporations are dumping billions into research and development projects. It’s easy to understand why. The first corporation to develop powerful quantum computing techniques and to streamline its costs could have an unmatched edge over their competition. It’s a race heating up as behemoths such as Google and IBM attempt to lasso the strange phenomena responsible for keeping the universe in check.
Recently, Google announced that they’ll develop proper quantum computing within a half-decade. Although quantum computing exists in some form today, its abilities are limited. Some might even suggest that it’s not true quantum computing.
To argue for or against this is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that corporations have developed computers far more powerful and capable of increased processing capabilities than anything currently on the market.
To add to the intrigue, IBM has announced that they’ll sell quantum computers to other companies within the year. Although these computers are limited when compared to Google’s ambitions, they’re nonetheless more powerful than current computers, and can offer revolutions of their own. Companies specializing in artificial intelligence, for example, might witness a boom in their fields as they move toward quantum computing.
How Quantum Computing Harnesses the Power of the Universe
It’s important to understand the basics of computing and the theoretical basis for quantum computing to appreciate how revolutionary the latter could be. Modern computers process information through individual transistors. Each transistor is capable of processing in a binary fashion. We’ve undoubtedly seen computer language expressed as a string of 1s and 0s. This, in fact, is the underlying language of modern computers.
In computing language, 1 equals on and 0 equals off. These are instructions for individual transistors. They process information by turning on (1) or turning off (0). While this might not seem impressive in itself, computers with thousands of transistors are capable of processing considerable information.
Its binary nature, however, restricts the ability of processors to increase over time. No matter how small our greatest scientists can make transistors, we can only fit a finite amount into any given computer.
Quantum computing isn’t restricted to the binary. In traditional computing, a transistor can be either on or off but not on and off at the same time. In the quantum realm, however, it’s possible for particles to be either A or B or both A and B. This may seem counterintuitive, or even impossible, but it’s a fact that physicists have grappled with and learned to accept over the past century.
Since particles aren’t limited to binary actions, harnessing them for the purposes of processing information can increase performance exponentially. Instead of transistors, quantum computing uses qubits to process information. If one qubit can process two equations simultaneously, two qubits can process four, and three qubits can process eight pieces of information simultaneously, we’ll notice that the processing rate grows exponentially as the number of qubits increases.
Now imagine a quantum computer with thousands, millions, or even billions of qubits. Such processing power might be hard to imagine. Whether we can imagine it or now, however, is irrelevant. Quantum computing in some iteration is already here. Its ability to function will only grow and improve as scientists develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of its practical applications.
Such understanding takes time. Research by its nature is slow moving. Instead of taking great leaps and bounds, such innovation moves more slowly. It’s usually far more gradual. As a result, big announcements are often few and far between. So while we may not constantly hear about quantum computing, rest assured: it is on the horizon. While quantum computing could realize technologies we only encounter in science fiction, it’s not something that could occur in decades. It’s only a matter of years. Whatever happened to quantum computing? It’s marching forward, ever forward, ready to unleash a revolution on a global scale.