What are quantum computers and how fast will they develop?

What are quantum computers and how fast will they develop?

I've prepared this post with non-technical people in mind, but who, like me, are interested in technology development. However, I think it will also be interesting and useful for young programmers who are interested in IT development in general. Have you already heard about quantum computers? Many of you probably have.

The first association is probably that they are much more powerful computationally, and therefore faster machines than those on which we work. For many years we have been hearing, once every few years, about new supercomputers working for big tech (Google, Facebook, Amazon) or for government agencies of great powers. Meanwhile, a year and a half ago, in October 2019, Google announced the achievement of so-called quantum supremacy.

So what is this noise all about?

Before I go further, I would like to emphasise at the outset that the subject of quantum computers is based on concepts that in physics are called quantum mechanics. The eminent Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman stated: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." Explaining to yourself, let alone to others what quantum computers are, is a very difficult task. Nevertheless, I decided to try to talk about this phenomenon, in a very oversimplified way, as I somehow understand the subject. I apologise in advance to all physicists and people familiar with quantum computing if the simplifications are too broad in your opinion. Feel free to comment, but please don't laugh at me - by popularising a difficult topic I meant well ;)

In the text, I also link to videos, from which I understood, as much as I can :), what quantum computing is.

Traditional computer science is based on describing information using "yes" and "no" states. "0" or "1". This is the so-called binary code, allowing large numeric operations to be written using strings of ones and zeros. In practice, it works in such a way that when we describe something as 1, current flows in the system, if zero, it does not. However, it is always yes or no. Here is a very cool video on how to represent pictures, video and audio using binary code:

This "0" or "1" is the basic unit of information called a bit.

In quantum computing, the smallest unit of information is not a bit but a "qubit" (from "quantum bit"). It is based on a concept from the physics of the quantum, which is the smallest physical unit of "something". A qubit is the smallest amount of information. Just as we cannot determine the position of an electron at any given moment in physics, we cannot determine what "information charge" a qubit currently has. Whether a qubit is currently approaching the position "one" or "zero" we can only determine in the context of a given probability. A qubit can be in state O and 1 simultaneously, in different proportions. A bit like a small child asked if he wants to go for a walk, he states, "yes, but if we go to the sweet shop for strawberry ice cream". We call this superposition.

Do you remember, because you have probably heard, about the so-called Schroedinger's cat, which is both alive and dead?

According to Wikipedia, a genius Austrian physicist Erwin Schroedinger "proposed a scenario with a cat in a locked steel chamber, wherein the cat's life or death depended on the state of a radioactive atom, whether it had decayed and emitted radiation or not. According to Schrödinger, the Copenhagen interpretation implies that the cat remains both alive and dead until the state has been observed. Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-live cats as a serious possibility; on the contrary, he intended the example to illustrate the absurdity of the existing view of quantum mechanics.

So our qubit is something like the Schroedinger's cat.

OK, but how does it all work in practice?

First, some mathematics. The 4 classical bits can occur in 16 positions (4 times 4), of which only one is used at any given time. 4 qubits mean there are really 16 positions at the start. All 16 are used simultaneously. With each additional qubit, the number of calculations increases exponentially. This is very nicely demonstrated here:

Do you already understand how a quantum computer can process gigantic amounts of data? OK, but still at the end we get a lottery, and we want to get a particular position.

For this purpose algorithms of so-called quantum decoherence were constructed. They say "check" to the qubits and determine their current positions. To paraphrase- in the end, Schroedinger's cat is either alive or dead. Here it is perfectly described by Scott Aaronson in a conversation with Lex Fridman:

In the 1990s, when the idea of quantum computers was conceived, most scientists in the fields of quantum mechanics and computer science claimed that qubits could not be taught or controlled. However, at the turn of the century there was a huge intellectual breakthrough called quantum error correction theory. The error-correcting code is much stronger than it was 20 years ago, but according to scientists we are still a long way from constructing real quantum computers. As Scott Aaronson stated in the interview quoted above: we are at the vacuum tube stage for now.

And yet in October 2019, Google announced the so-called achievement of quantum supremacy.

Quantum supremacy is the state in which a quantum computer achieves computing power radically greater than a classical computer.

Google managed to build a quantum computer with 53 qubits. They announced that in 200 seconds their computer solved a problem that a normal computer would have taken 10,000 years to solve. One of Google's competitors, IBM (which also built its own quantum computer) was quick to question Google's success. According to IBM, their competitor made a mistake in calculations and the task would have taken a classical computer 2.5 days. Still, 200 seconds is not 60 hours. But is it already quantum supremacy? According to most scientists - no. Nevertheless - every great invention of the mankind had its first step.

In which areas quantum computers may cause the biggest breakthrough?

Many commentators talk about cryptography. Quantum software makes it possible to provide much more complicated encryption keys. On the other hand, decryption mechanisms will also be much more powerful. If you watch the conversation between Lex and Scott- it comes out to zero.

Many commentators are hoping for a significant acceleration in the development of AI algorithms thanks to quantum computers. This will certainly happen sooner or later. At this point, for the advanced, I recommend the channel of a foundation in my city dealing with the impact of quantum computing on AI development.

As Scott Aaronson accurately stated, the greatest achievement of quantum computing is faster and more precise reproduction of reality around us: chemical processes, medical research, study of nature. After all, the reality around us is quantum.


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