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May 4, 2021 5 min read

Quantum Computing 101

Wiser! #12 (Premium): Quantum computing explained in simple terms, plus the 10 areas where quantum computing will change the way industry and markets work.

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Quantum computing explained, 10 areas impacted by quantum

What is quantum computing?

Computing as we know it today is going to change radically. It's not a question of if, but when. Think of it this way; today's computers can get you from A to B on any street map. Tomorrow's quantum computers will have the power to navigate you through the universe.

This is made possible because computing will essentially be harnessing and exploiting the amazing laws of quantum mechanics to process information. Whereas a traditional computer uses long strings of “bits,” which encode either a zero or a one, a quantum computer uses quantum bits, or qubits.

A qubit is a quantum system that encodes the zero and the one into two distinguishable quantum states. Because qubits behave quantumly, quantum computing exploits the phenomena of "superposition" and "entanglement." (Hang on in there...)

These are the key concepts to get your head around when you think about the future of computing and communications technology.

Superposition is essentially the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time — that is, something can be “here” and “there,” or “up” and “down” at the same time.

You will be familiar with the notion of a computer bit being "on" OR "Off". In quantum computing the qubit can be "on" AND "off" at the same time. 🤔

Entanglement is when two or more quantum particles are inextricably linked in perfect unison, even if separated by great distances. The particles are so intrinsically connected, they can be said to “dance” in instantaneous, perfect unison, even when placed at opposite ends of the universe.

This seemingly impossible connection inspired Einstein to describe entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.” 💡

What can we use quantum computing for?

There are many tasks that have long been thought impossible (or “intractable”) for traditional computers. Factoring large numbers, for starters.

Multiplying two large numbers is easy for any computer, but calculating the factors of a very large (say, 500-digit) number is considered impossible for any classical computer.

In 1994, a mathematician from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Peter Shor, who was working at AT&T at the time, unveiled that if a fully working quantum computer was available, it could factor large numbers easily.

The difficulty of factoring big numbers is the basis for much of our present day cryptography, the fundamental security mechanism that secures things like banking systems and the Internet.

It is because 'factoring' is very hard that no eavesdropper will be able to access your credit card number or penetrate your bank account.

Did you know? According to Statista, the most commonly used password in 2020 was “123456”, followed by “picture1”, “password” and “111111”.

10 ways quantum computers will solve the unsolvable

The ultimate goal is to develop quantum computers that can solve very complex problems that are practically unsolvable by traditional computers.

Machine learning 🧅

Harnessing machine learning requires sufficiently large data sets. Along with the computational power to crunch this data and recognise patterns. Quantum computers will enable this – at an accelerated rate. Meaning that machines will get smarter in a shorter space of time, and making new developments likely to happen at a faster rate.

Pharma 💊

To develop new drugs, scientists need to test how molecules react and respond to one another. Mapping the human genome, for example, was a major breakthrough. Scientists are now faced with the challenge of modelling the 20,000+ proteins encoded in the human genome, to understand how they’ll react to particular drugs and treatments.

Traditionally, this has been time-consuming, involving major investment, with no guarantee of success at the end of it. Quantum computers will make it possible to simulate molecular structure, dramatically speeding up processes and finding cures.

Combating global warming ☀️

Algorithmic development can focus on carbon capture. Working out where and what point carbon emissions can be captured and removed from the Earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, quantum computers also use something called quantum tunnelling. This has the environmental benefit of reducing power consumption by a factor of 100 to 1,000.

Farming 🐄

Creating fertiliser is an energy-intensive process, responsible for around 2% of all global CO2 emissions. Yet, the earth does it naturally, using plant bacteria and a molecule – nitrogenase. Analysing this molecule is impossible for the most powerful computers around today. However, it’s something well within the capabilities of a quantum computer.

Big Data 🗄️

The world has never had so much access to so much data. In fact, more data has been generated over the past two years than throughout all of human history. Quantum computers offer a solution that goes beyond simply extracting the value hidden within the volumes. They can not only crunch data sets, but also calculate and create new data sets, to reveal new insights. Will it be a case of data centre to digital centre to quantum centre?

Communications 🛰️

Quantum computing will support the increasing demand for bandwidth, since it uses a greater range of frequencies than radio waves. For example, quantum lasers would transmit data hundreds of times faster than current wireless networks.

In the UK, academic researchers and a small number of commercial entities use the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service – a fibre reserved exclusively for research – to trial quantum communication.

A team at University College London used the network to demonstrate that optical communications had the potential to transmit data at 1TB/s – equivalent to sending the complete works of Shakespeare 100,000 times a second.

Smart cities 🏙️

Late last year Volkswagen Group announced a partnership with Google to explore practical applications of quantum computing. The German carmaker intends to research and build up knowledge for areas including ‘traffic optimization, material simulations especially for high-performance batteries for electric vehicles and new materials, and new machine learning processes’.

Transportation 🚢

Route optimization algorithms would help logistics companies save money by continuously optimizing routes based on complex and dynamically changing variales, such as inventory stock-outs, vehicle performance, traffic patterns, weather conditions and so on.

It would also reduce the carbon footprint for entire industries, a universally recognized goal, as transportation accounts for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Healthcare 🏥

The principles of quantum physics are of great help in the design of scanners for the rapid and accurate diagnosis of diseases. It is possible to foresee how the disease may evolve in a patient or to determine at what level a certain drug is effective. If universal quantum computers can be used in research and development in healthcare in the future, they would probably revolutionize entire development processes. Through its technology, doctors can access more efficient management of health data. The collaboration between Accenture, quantum software company 1Qbit, and biotech Biogen are designing the first quantum application of medical solutions for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's.

Government and Big Tech 🗳️

The Chinese government is known to be funding quantum computing research, as is the U.S. via agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In addition to Google, IBM, Honeywell, Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba, Nokia, Intel, Airbus, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), Toshiba, Mitsubishi, SK Telecom, NEC, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Biogen, Volkswagen, Silicon Quantum Computing, Huawei, Amgen, and Zapata are also building quantum systems.


Sifted: Quantum computing explained

datanami: Machine Learning cuts through the noise of Quantum Computing

The Daily HODL: Google teams up with D-Wave in massive quantum computing leap

Forbes: How quantum computers could cut millions of mils from supply chains

Healthcare Insights: What can quantum computing do for healthcare?

VentureBeat: QCI and quantum computing portability

University of Waterloo: Institute of quantum computing

The Digital Centre: Use cases for quantum computers

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