IBM launches cloud-based five qubits quantum processorIBM/Flickr
[…] when quantum theory was regarded as a branch of physics, and physicists didn’t need to explain the theory to use it to design computer chips and cellphones. But toward the end of the 20th century, scientists gradually realized that quantum weirdness was not just a philosophical conundrum or a communications problem between scientists and laypeople, but implied the existence of powerful and previously unsuspected kinds of information processing, feats that could not be predicted or understood using pre-quantum notions.
Now, in the 21st century, this realization is propelling a race among some of the world’s most influential university laboratories, government agencies and technology companies, to design and build a “quantum computer,” that is to say a device within which quantum effects are directly harnessed for information processing, including some feats unachievable by ordinary “classical” computers.
It’s a mind-bending concept with the potential to change the world, and Canadian tech company D-Wave claims to have cracked the code.
Quantum computing is the technology that many scientists, entrepreneurs and big businesses expect to provide a, well, quantum leap into the future. If you’ve never heard of it there’s a helpful video doing the social media rounds that’s got a couple of million hits on YouTube. It features the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, detailing exactly what quantum computing means.
Trudeau was on a recent visit to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, one of the world’s leading centres for the study of the field. During a press conference there, a reporter asked him, half-jokingly, to explain quantum computing.
Quantum mechanics is a conceptually counterintuitive area of science that has baffled some of the finest minds – as Albert Einstein said “God does not play dice with the universe” – so it’s not something you expect to hear politicians holding forth on. Throw it into the context of computing and let’s just say you could easily make Zac Goldsmith look like an expert on Bollywood. But Trudeau rose to the challenge and gave what many science observers thought was a textbook example of how to explain a complex idea in a simple way.
“Quantum computers, in a nutshell, will be able to perform tasks much, much faster than typical computers by harnessing the power of atoms and molecules. It’s a complex topic, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might be able to help you out. The technology is still in its infancy, but a few organizations, including Google and MIT, managed to create simple versions that could lead something bigger.
As you can imagine then, a quantum computer and an AI make a formidable combination. During the event, Rubin said the resulting machine could be so powerful, we’d need only one to power every connected device, such as smartphones. “If you have computing that is as powerful as this could be, you might only need one. It might not be something you carry around; it just has to be conscious,” he said, according to The Verge.
The idea of an extremely capable and conscious computer is both intriguing and terrifying. Remember Skynet? Rubin said we shouldn’t “be worrying about Skynet coming online,” though. We “should be worrying about what it means to compute at these magnitudes.”
‘”It was billed as the vindication of the quantum computer. Late last year, researchers at Google announced that a quantum machine called the D-Wave 2X had executed a task 100 million times faster than a classical computer. The claim implies that the machine can complete in one second a task that might take a classical computer three years.
It also erased one facet of the skepticism that has long faced this particular version of a quantum computer. In the past, critics of so-called “quantum annealers” made by the Canadian company D-Wave Systems have wondered if the machines make use of intrinsically quantum processes at all.
Part of the problem lies in the catch-22 of quantum computing: The quantum features only work when they’re not being observed, so observing a quantum computer to check if it’s exploiting quantum behavior will destroy the quantum behavior being checked. “It’s hard to devise a physics experiment to study something you aren’t allowed to observe,” said Catherine McGeoch, a computer scientist at D-Wave. December’s news convincingly satisfied critics that the quantum annealer really does exploit uniquely quantum effects.”
“Quantum computers are very different from today’s computers, not only in what they look like and are made of, but more importantly in what they can do. Quantum computing is becoming a reality and it will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today’s computers,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director, IBM Research.
“This moment represents the birth of quantum cloud computing. By giving hands-on access to IBM’s experimental quantum systems, the IBM Quantum Experience will make it easier for researchers and the scientific community to accelerate innovations in the quantum field, and help discover new applications for this technology,” added Arvind.
“Imagine a computer processor able to harness super-position, to calculate the result of an arbitrarily large number of permutations of a complex problem simultaneously. Imagine how entanglement could be used to allow systems on different sides of the world to be linked and their efforts combined, despite their physical separation. Quantum computing has immense potential, making light work of some of the most difficult tasks, such as simulating the body’s response to drugs, predicting weather patterns, or analysing big datasets.
Such processing possibilities are needed. The first transistors could only just be held in the hand, while today they measure just 14 nm – 500 times smaller than a red blood cell. This relentless shrinking, predicted by Intel founder Gordon Moore as Moore’s law, has held true for 50 years, but cannot hold indefinitely. Silicon can only be shrunk so far, and if we are to continue benefiting from the performance gains we have become used to, we need a different approach.”
‘”A dramatic increase in the amount of time data can be stored on a single atom means silicon could once again play a vital role in the development of super-fast computers.
[…] While modern computers use these silicon chips (or integrated circuits) to perform an array of complex calculations, there are still some important problems that existing computers can’t solve.
For example, medical researchers would love to be able to invent new pharmaceuticals with computer-aided design, much like the way automotive engineers design new cars, but they cannot do this today.
The reason is that the molecules that make up the medicine are not “macro” objects, like a car, but they live in the “micro” or quantum world, which is far more complex to calculate.
In fact, no computer as we know it today will ever be able to properly design such molecular systems. So we must turn to a new type of computer – a quantum computer – in which the “bits” of data used for the calculations are themselves stored on quantum particles, like individual atoms, or electrons.
Such quantum computers are also expected to be able to solve other important problems, such as searching large data sets, or solving complex financial problems.”
“A famous mind experiment by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger describes the existential mystery of a cat that is both alive and dead depending on whether you open the box where it sits with some things that can kill it. This strange thought has been used as a way to explain the paradox of quantum superposition, a key concept in quantum physics, which states that a particle can exist in many possible states at the same time and only measurement and observation will lock it into a particular state (like opening the box to see if the cat is alive or dead). And now this popular topic of mind-bending conversations has found a real-world application. Yale researchers made a device that shows that a particle can actually be in two states at once.
No, the device doesn’t involve putting a cat in a box with poison and radioactive materials. Taking their cue from Schrödinger, the scientists are talking about a “cat state“. They created a device where the “cat” lives or dies in two boxes at once, which combines the superposition paradox with another quantum concept – “entanglement“. The idea of “entanglement”, which Einstein rather poetically called “spooky action at a distance“, allows local observation of a state to instantaneously influence a distant object.”
“Quantum computing promises processing speeds and heft that seem unimaginable by today’s standards. A working quantum computer—linked up to surveillance technology, let’s say—might be able to instantly identify a single individual in real-time by combing through a database that includes billions of faces. Such a computer might also be able to simulate a complex chemical reaction, or crack through the toughest encryption tools in existence. (There’s an entire field of study dedicated to post-quantum cryptography. It’s based on writing algorithms that could withstand an attack by a quantum computer. People still aren’t sure if such security is even possible, which means quantum computing could wreak havoc on global financial systems, governments, and other institutions.)
It’s often said that a working quantum computer would take days to solve a problem that a classical computer would take millions of years to sort through. Now, theoretical ideas about the development of such machines—long relegated to the realm of mathematical formula—are being turned into computer chips.”
“It’s no secret that we’re in the middle of an information-processing revolution. Electronic and optical methods of storing, processing, and communicating information have advanced exponentially over the last half-century. In the case of computational power this rapid advance known as Moore’s Law. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore, the ex-president of Intel, pointed out that the components of computers were halving in size every year or two, and consequently, the power of computers was doubling at the same rate. Moore’s law has continued to hold to the present day. As a result these machines that we make, these human artifacts, are on the verge of becoming more powerful than human beings themselves in terms of raw information processing power. If you count the elementary computational events that occur in the brain or in the computer—bits flipping, synapses firing—the computer is likely to overtake the brain in terms of bits flipped per second in the next couple of decades.
We shouldn’t be too concerned, though. For computers to become smarter than us is not really a hardware problem; it’s more a software issue. Software evolves much more slowly than hardware, and indeed much current software seems to be designed to junk up the beautiful machines that we build. The situation is like the Cambrian explosion, a rapid increase in the power of hardware. Who is smarter, humans or computers, is a question that will get sorted out some million years hence, maybe; maybe sooner. My guess would be that it will take hundreds or thousands of years until we actually get software that we could reasonably regard as useful and sophisticated. At the same time, we’re going to have computing machines that are much more powerful quite soon.
[…] The digital information-processing revolution is only the most recent revolution, and it’s by no means the greatest one. For instance, he invention of moveable type and the printing has had a much greater impact on human society so far than the electronic revolution. There have been many information processing revolutions. One of my favorites is the invention of the so-called Arabic—actually Babylonian—numbers, in particular, zero. This amazing invention, very useful in terms of processing and registering information, came from the ancient Babylonians and then moved to India. It came to us through the Arabs, which is why we call it the Arabic number system. The invention of zero allows us to write the number 10 as one zero. This apparently tiny step is in fact an incredible invention that has given rise to all sorts of mathematics, including the bits—the “binary digits”—of the digital computing revolution.”
“For decades now, scientists have been trying to figure out how we can use the enormous potential of quantum mechanics to build a whole new generation of computers. While your brand new iMac might run like a dream, it basically works the same as computers that were built 80 years ago – a series of electrical circuits that switch on and off on command. The problem with our current computers is that we’re close to hitting the limit for how advanced they can get, but the good news is we now have all the building blocks for a quantum computer, we just need to make it run.