What is Quantum Computing?
Quantum Computing at its simplest is computing using theories of quantum physics instead of traditional computing methods. To be more specific, quantum computers use processes called superposition and entanglement to be able to handle calculations much faster than traditional hardware. Google and NASA have already stated that their D-Wave 2X quantum computer is 100 million times faster than a normal computer. (1)
Traditional computers use bits, which are either 0 or 1, to perform every possible action a computer can do. However, this is not the case for quantum computers. Instead, they use something called “qubits,” which are particles that can represent 0, 1, or both simultaneously. (2) This is made possible by superposition: a unique property of particles on the quantum level. Basically, particles such as electrons or photons can exist in multiple positions at the same time when unobserved. However, once you start observing these particles, they will always end up in one defined position. Furthermore, when these particles are in a state of superposition, they can be connected to each other through an extremely strong correlation: this phenomenon is called entanglement. When particles are entangled together, interacting with one particle may change the connected particle as well. This connection between entangled particles is ever-present no matter the distance. So you could potentially have 2 entangled particles on different sides of the planet and changing the state of one particle would still affect the other particle across the world.
Now particles themselves have a magnetic charge and align themselves with the magnetic fields present, similarly to how a compass aligns itself to Earth’s magnetic field. They normally rest in the position of least resistance so we can call this position 0. Now if you were to apply a perfect amount of force to the particle, then it would stay unaligned with the magnetic field and would be considered in position 1. Applying the theory of superposition to this, we can say that these particles, or qubits, both align and don’t align with the magnetic fields at the same time when unobserved. In other words, they represent positions 0 and 1 at the same time. (3)
The unique nature of these particles is what allows us to achieve higher processing speeds in quantum computers over regular computers. The reason behind this can be explained by comparing 2 regular bits, 2 entangled qubits and the differences between them when you add additional bits and qubits. The 2 regular bits can only represent 2 numbers worth of information since each bit can only be 0 or 1. And every additional bit you add onto this will only be able to represent an additional bit of information as well. On the other hand, the 2 qubits can represent all 4 possible combinations of the 2 bits at the same time due to superposition and entanglement. So in essence, these 2 qubits are representing 4 bits of information. Every additional qubit added will increase the data representation exponentially as 3 qubits can represent 8 possible outcomes worth of information and so forth. Therefore, additional bits will increase data representation linearly while additional qubits will increase it exponentially. (3)
Recently, quantum computing has become more accessible thanks to a Vancouver based company called D-Wave. They have been developing quantum computers since 1999, and have worked with some of the most influential companies such as Google and NASA to become the world’s first commercialized quantum computer supplier. Now they have branches in Japan, and California.
Their current system, the D-Wave 2000Q, is a 10ft tall computer that’s valued at around $15 million USD. (4) As its name suggests, the computer utilizes 2000 qubits in the processor, which is protected by 15 layers of shielding. These shields, along with a huge freezer and vacuum, are designed to create a stable environment where the particles can perform properly. It is vital that the processor is isolated from outside magnetic fields and radiation as the interference may ruin the delicate magnetic field already produced by the machine. In addition, the freezer keeps the processor at -273°C and the vacuum maintains pressure levels akin to 10 billion times less than atmospheric pressure levels. (5) Similarly to the shields, the freezer and vacuum are required to create a stable environment where the qubits are isolated from any thermal fluctuation that may degrade performance.
As quantum computers are still very new, there are not many working methods to apply such computing power to real world problems. This is why D-Wave is offering a program they are calling “Leap”. D-Wave is offering developers free access to their quantum computers, learning resources, and the world’s first quantum application environment in order to accelerate the development of practical applications. (6) To date, the Leap program has begun implementing quantum processing to over 150 projects ranging from the Volkswagen Group conducting research on traffic flow optimization to the Los Alamos National Lab implementing it into their facial recognition system. (7)
What This Means for You
As $15 million USD is a bit over the average person’s budget for a new computer, chances are that most people won’t own a D-Wave quantum computer for a very long time. However if you’re interested in participating in the development of this revolutionary technology, individuals can also apply to join the Leap program. But for the regular person, a quantum computer won’t be much of an upgrade from what they already have. Since the main difference between a quantum and normal computer is the processing speed, being able to process huge calculations that a normal computer cannot do in a realistic period of time is the main benefit. So if you don’t plan on doing something calculation heavy like creating the optimal Pokémon team (7), which D-Wave has already shown off, then owning a quantum computer may not be the best choice for you. But regardless, the propagation of quantum computing may spur future technological developments in various fields.
- Nield, David. “Google's Quantum Computer Is 100 Million Times Faster Than Your Laptop.” ScienceAlert, https://www.sciencealert.com/google-s-quantum-computer-is-100-million-times-faster-than-your-laptop.
- “How Does Quantum Computing Work?” Plus.maths.org, 26 Nov. 2015, https://plus.maths.org/content/how-does-quantum-commuting-work.
- Veritasium. “How Does a Quantum Computer Work?” YouTube, YouTube, 17 June 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_IaVepNDT4.
- Shah, Agam. “D-Wave's $15 Million Quantum Computer Runs a Staggering 2,000 Qubits.” PCWorld, IDG News Service, 24 Jan. 2017, https://www.pcworld.com/article/3161034/d-waves-quantum-computer-runs-a-staggering-2000-qubits.html.
- “The D-Wave 2000Q™ System.” D-Wave, https://www.dwavesys.com/d-wave-two-system.
- “D-Wave Launches Leap, the First Real-Time Quantum Application Environment.” D-Wave, https://www.dwavesys.com/press-releases/d-wave-launches-leap-first-real-time-quantum-application-environment.
- QUBO, I Choose You: Building an Optimal Pokémon Team with a Quantum Computer. https://www.dwavesys.com/events/demand-webinar-qubo-i-choose-you-building-optimal-pokémon-team-quantum-computer.