Quantum Computing: Expectations vs. Reality

The tech industry is notorious for relentlessly chasing the next innovative idea. When it comes to quantum computing, the story isn’t any different, and the hunt for the most significant performance boost in technological history has been on for quite some time.

While we haven’t smashed any computing speed barriers by leveraging counterintuitive physics of subatomic scales (yet), we have indeed moved away from the hypothetical stage. IBM, Google, and Microsoft have invested heavily in quantum computing and currently dominate this space, but others soon followed.

According to Homeland Security Research, the global market for quantum computing and technologies is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 24.6% over the next six years. By 2024, government-funded research and development is expected to reach $2.25 billion while the products and services market is expected to be worth $8.45 billion. According to CIR, the revenue generated from quantum computing could be as high as $8 billion by 2027.

What Are the Expectations?

Quantum computers are ridiculously powerful machines that embrace a whole new approach to processing data. Taking advantage of quantum mechanics principles, this technology is designed to exploit often hidden and complex laws of nature.

While our classical or conventional computers leverage a large number of transistors to achieve higher computing speed, quantum computers will use subatomic particles and atoms as their physical system. However, we still don’t know where all these particles will end up or what form they will take.

As these machines are designed to harness such natural behavior, quantum computing processes information more holistically. They will also run new types of algorithms that can one day lead to unexpected and revolutionary scientific breakthroughs.

Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described it best when he said the following:

“A classical computation is like a solo voice—one line of pure tones succeeding each other. A quantum computation is like a symphony—many lines of tones interfering with one another.”

So the expectations are sky high. From solving highly complex mathematical problems in a blink of an eye to building un-hackable global networks, experts expect quantum computing to define global information technology for decades to come. 

We are currently in the embryonic stage of the fourth industrial revolution, but once these machines realize “the dream,” you can expect it to usher in an accelerated period innovation and transformation that will be known as the Quantum Age.

These computers won’t look like the hardware we have today. We don’t even expect them to have a monitor or keyboard. Instead, they will be complex installations that demand cryogenics for cooling lasers in subzero temperatures, along with other solid-state and optical devices.

Although more than two twenty nations are competing to dominate our quantum future, it’s safe to say that only China and the United States are even close to achieving quantum supremacy. Whoever manages to win the race will have a significant advantage when it comes to ruling the rest of us on the planet.

This is because highly complex (and persistent) problems that are probably holding us back can be solved within seconds. While computers have become faster over the years, they are still built following a classical model of computing that is very limited, and this needs to change.

In many ways, you can say that quantum computing can make the impossible, possible! When quantum computers are finally out in the marketplace, the difference between them and classical computers will be huge.

What Is the Reality?

Although expectations can get pretty wild at times, it’s important to note that quantum computers may not be tiny or much faster than the technology available today. However, they will surely solve some highly complex computing problems.

At the moment, we’re working on three different quantum computing concepts:

Quantum Annealers

Google and Nasa have been collaborating on the D-Wave X2 quantum computer for many years. It’s said to be the first “proof of concept” of a machine that can process algorithms a 100 million times faster than a conventional computer chip.

This machine is an excellent example of a quantum annealer that can be used to solve sampling and optimization problems. Classical computers have much difficulty doing this. For example, they find it challenging to identify the best route between two points.

As the D-Wave X2 doesn’t manipulate any qubits while computing, it can perform calculations using 1000 qubits. These can become entangled and exhibit multiple states at random.

Analog Emulators

Analog emulators which are built to simulate physical processes don’t entirely exist, but we’re getting pretty close. These quantum computers will be ideal to conduct experiments related to the earth’s climate in a highly controlled setting. These simulators will be developed with up to 51 qubits.

At present, Chinese scientist Xianmin Jin and colleagues from Shanghai Jiao Tong University have managed to successfully fabricate the largest-scaled quantum chip. It’s now possible to demonstrate the first two-dimensional quantum walk of a single photon in real spatial space.

This innovation has the potential to boost powerful analog quantum computing platforms that can one day lead to quantum supremacy.

Universal Quantum Computer

The universal quantum computer can be described as the Holy Grail of quantum computing. This is what most commentators are referring to when they discuss quantum computing.

When these machines are built, they will be able to run any type of algorithms to discover patterns in data sets that conventional computers can’t analyze. However, it’s still anyone’s guess when it will be possible to build these machines.

This is because it’s incredibly difficult to entangle the qubits throughout the entire time of computing. At present, we have only managed to effectively entangle 20 qubits. Since subatomic particles are highly unstable, it’s near impossible to keep qubits entangled for long enough to perform calculations.

As we head towards 2019, the excitement surrounding quantum computing will only grow exponentially as we’re almost there. As governments and corporate giants race towards quantum supremacy, we will certainly get there sooner rather than later.

Andrew is our IT storyteller and copywriter. His current undertaking is big data analytics and CSS as well as digital design and branding. He is a contributor to various publications with a focus on new technology and marketing.

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