All about quantum computing
Quantum computing and supercomputers will revolutionise technology
We live in the age of technology, but there's still plenty to come. In recent years, large companies have been taking small — but important steps — forward in quantum computing, which looks set to revolutionise the world as we know it. The following selection of potential applications will impact everything from mobility to healthcare.
In a binary world consisting of ones and zeros, quantum computers would be like the Albert Einstein of computing, with extraordinary electronic brains capable of completing tasks that would be almost impossible for ordinary computers to handle. The multinational IBM will be the first to market this wondrous technology with the Q System One, a 3x3-metre glass cube with 20 qubits presented in 2019 that will be made available to businesses and researchers.
WHAT IS QUANTUM COMPUTING?
This branch of computer science is based on the principles of the superposition of matter and quantum entanglement and uses a different computation method from the traditional one. In theory, it would be able to store many more states per unit of information and operate with much more efficient algorithms at the numerical level, such as Shor's or quantum annealing.
This new generation of supercomputers uses knowledge of quantum mechanics — the area of physics that studies atomic and subatomic particles — to overcome the limitations of classic computing. Although in practice, quantum computing faces evident problems regarding scalability and incoherence, it makes it possible to perform multiple simultaneous operations and eliminates the tunnel effect that limits current nanometric scale programming.
WHAT IS A QUBIT?
Quantum computing uses the qubit as the basic unit of information rather than the conventional bit. The main characteristic of this alternative system is that it permits the coherent superposition of ones and zeros, the digits of the binary system around which all computing revolves. Bits, on the other hand, can only have one value at a time — either one or zero —.
This aspect of quantum technology means that a qubit can be both zero and one at the same time, and in different proportions. This multiplicity of states makes it possible for a quantum computer with just 30 qubits, for example, to perform 10 billion floating-point operations per second, which is about 5.8 billion more than the most powerful PlayStation video game console on the market.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN QUANTUM AND TRADITIONAL COMPUTING
Quantum and traditional computing are two parallel worlds with some similarities and many differences, such as the use of qubits rather than bits. Let's take a look at three of the most significant:
Quantum computing does not have its own programming code and requires the development and implementation of very specific algorithms. However, traditional computing has standardised languages like Java, SQL and Python, to name but a few.
Quantum computers are not intended for widespread, everyday use, unlike personal computers (PC). These supercomputers are so complex that they can only be used in the corporate, scientific and technological fields.
Quantum computers have a simpler architecture than conventional computers and they have no memory or processor. The equipment consists solely of a set of qubits that makes it run.
OPERATING CONDITIONS OF A QUANTUM COMPUTER
These computers are extremely sensitive and require very specific pressure and temperature conditions and insulation to operate correctly. When these machines interact with external particles, measurement errors and the erasure of state overlaps occur, which is why they are sealed and have to be operated using conventional computers.
Quantum computers must have almost no atmospheric pressure, an ambient temperature close to absolute zero (-273°C) and insulation from the earth's magnetic field to prevent the atoms from moving, colliding with each other, or interacting with the environment. In addition, these systems only operate for very short intervals of time, so that the information becomes damaged and cannot be stored, making it even more difficult to recover the data.
MAIN USES OF QUANTUM COMPUTING
Computer security, biomedicine, the development of new materials and the economy, are among the fields that may be revolutionised by advances in quantum computing. These are some of the most substantial benefits:
Companies would further optimise their investment portfolios and improve fraud detection and simulation systems.
This sector would benefit from the development of new drugs and genetically customised treatments, as well as DNA research.
Quantum programming involves risks, but also advances in data encryption, such as the new Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) system. This is a new technique for sending sensitive information that uses light signals to detect intruders in the system.
Mobility and transport
Companies like Airbus use quantum computing to design more efficient aircraft. Qubits will also enable significant progress in traffic planning systems and route optimisation.