Frequently Asked Questions about Quantum Computing

In the world where erstwhile super computers are in our handphones, the world is moving quickly towards the newest Technological innovation around Quantum Computing.

In order to explain what it is and to answer the most relevant questions, we have compiled a list of FAQs from around the web.

What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing is a type of nonclassical computing based on the quantum state of subatomic particles.

Quantum computing is fundamentally different from classic computers, which operate using binary bits. This means the bits are either 0 or 1, true or false, positive or negative. However, in quantum computing , the bit is referred to as a quantum bit, or qubit. Unlike the strictly binary bits of classic computing, qubits can, strangely, represent a range of values in one qubit. This representation is called superpositioning.

Superpositioning is what gives quantum computers speed and parallelism, as each qubit can represent a quantitative solution to a problem. Further, qubits can be linked with other qubits in a process called entanglement; each entangled qubit adds two more dimensions to the system. When combined with superposition, quantum computers can process a massive number of possible outcomes at the same time.

The number of high-quality qubits necessary to make a viable quantum computer depends on the problem.

The ability for a quantum computer to outperform a classical computer is called quantum supremacy. While it may sound like a sci-fi dream, experts believe that for a limited number of computing problems, quantum supremacy will be a reality in a matter of years.

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How do quantum computers work?

Instead of bits, quantum computers use qubits. Rather than just being on or off, qubits can also be in what's called superposition' where they're both on and off at the same time, or somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

Take a coin. If you flip it, it can either be heads or tails. But if you spin it it's got a chance of landing on heads, and a chance of landing on tails. Until you measure it, by stopping the coin, it can be either. Superposition is like a spinning coin, and it's one of the things that makes quantum computers so powerful. A qubit allows for uncertainty.

If you ask a normal computer to figure its way out of a maze, it will try every single branch in turn, ruling them all out individually until it finds the right one. A quantum computer can go down every path of the maze at once. It can hold uncertainty in its head.

It's a bit like keeping a finger in the pages of a choose your own adventure book. If your character dies, you can immediately choose a different path, instead of having to return to the start of the book.

The other thing that qubits can do is called entanglement. Normally, if you flip two coins, the result of one coin toss has no bearing on the result of the other one. They're independent. In entanglement, two particles are linked together, even if they're physically separate. If one comes up heads, the other one will also be heads.

It sounds like magic, and physicists still don't fully understand how or why it works. But in the realm of quantum computing, it means that you can move information around, even if it contains uncertainty. You can take that spinning coin and use it to perform complex calculations. And if you can string together multiple qubits, you can tackle problems that would take our best computers millions of years to solve.

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What is required to build a quantum computer?

Simply put: we need qubits that behave the way we want them to. These qubits could be made of photons, atoms, electrons, molecules or perhaps something else. Scientists at IQC are researching a large array of them as potential bases for quantum computers. But qubits are notoriously tricky to manipulate, since any disturbance causes them to fall out of their quantum state (or decohere). Decoherence is the Achilles heel of quantum computing, but it is not insurmountable. The field of quantum error correction examines how to stave off decoherence and combat other errors. Every day, researchers at IQC and around the world are discovering new ways to make qubits cooperate.

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What the Future Holds for Quantum Computing

Some large companies and governments have started treating quantum computing research like a race perhaps fittingly it's one where both the distance to the finish line and the prize for getting there are unknown.

Google, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft have all expanded their teams working on the technology, with a growing swarm of startups such as Rigetti in hot pursuit. China and the European Union have each launched new programs measured in the billions of dollars to stimulate quantum R&D. And in the US, the Trump White House has created a new committee to coordinate government work on quantum information science. Several bills were introduced to Congress in 2018 proposing new funding for quantum research, totalling upwards of $1.3 billion. It's not quite clear what the first killer apps of quantum computing will be, or when they will appear. But there's a sense that whoever is first make these machines useful will gain big economic and national security advantages.

Copper structures conduct heat well and connect the apparatus to its cooling system.Amy Lombard Back in the world of right now, though, quantum processors are too simple to do practical work. Google is working to stage a demonstration known as quantum supremacy , in which a quantum processor would solve a carefully designed math problem beyond existing supercomputers. But that would be an historic scientific milestone, not proof quantum computing is ready to do real work.

As quantum computer prototypes get larger, the first practical use for them will probably be for chemistry simulations. Computer models of molecules and atoms are vital to the hunt for new drugs or materials. Yet conventional computers can't accurately simulate the behavior of atoms and electrons during chemical reactions. Why? Because that behavior is driven by quantum mechanics, the full complexity of which is too great for conventional machines.

Daimler and Volkswagen have both started investigating quantum computing as a way to improve battery chemistry for electric vehicles. Microsoft says other uses could include designing new catalysts to make industrial processes less energy intensive, or even to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to mitigate climate change.

Quantum computers would also be a natural fit for code-breaking. We've known since the 90s that they could zip through the math underpinning the encryption that secures online banking, flirting, and shopping. Quantum processors would need to be much more advanced to do this, but governments and companies are taking the threat seriously. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is in the process of evaluating new encryption systems that could be rolled out to quantum-proof the internet.

When cooled to operating temperature, the whole assembly is hidden inside this white insulated casing.Amy Lombard Tech companies such as Google are also betting that quantum computers can make artificial intelligence more powerful . That's further in the future and less well mapped out than chemistry or code-breaking applications, but researchers argue they can figure out the details down the line as they play around with larger and larger quantum processors. One hope is that quantum computers could help machine-learning algorithms pick up complex tasks using many fewer than the millions of examples typically used to train AI systems today.

Despite all the superposition-like uncertainty about when the quantum computing era will really begin, big tech companies argue that programmers need to get ready now. Google, IBM, and Microsoft have all released open source tools to help coders familiarize themselves with writing programs for quantum hardware. IBM has even begun to offer online access to some of its quantum processors, so anyone can experiment with them. Long term, the big computing companies see themselves making money by charging corporations to access data centers packed with supercooled quantum processors.

What's in it for the rest of us? Despite some definite drawbacks, the age of conventional computers has helped make life safer, richer, and more convenient many of us are never more than five seconds away from a kitten video. The era of quantum computers should have similarly broad reaching, beneficial, and impossible to predict consequences. Bring on the qubits.

Peek inside the ultra-clean workshop of Rigetti Computing, a startup packed with PhDs wearing what look like space suits and gleaming steampunk-style machines studded with bolts. In a facility across the San Francisco Bay from Silicon Valley, Rigetti is building its own quantum processors, using similar technology to that used by IBM and Google.

Wall Street has plenty of quants math wizards who hunt profits using equations. Now JP Morgan has quantum quants, a small team collaborating with IBM to figure out how to use the power of quantum algorithms to more accurately model financial risk. Useful quantum computers are still years away, but the bank and other big corporations say that the potential payoffs are so large that they need to seriously investigate quantum computing today.

Companies working on quantum computer hardware like to say that the field has transitioned from the exploration and uncertainty of science into the more predictable realm of engineering. Yet while hardware has improved markedly in recent years, and investment is surging, there are still open scientific questions about the physics underlying quantum computing.

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What is quantum supremacy?

It's the point at which a quantum computer can complete a mathematical calculation that is demonstrably beyond the reach of even the most powerful supercomputer.

It's still unclear exactly how many qubits will be needed to achieve this because researchers keep finding new algorithms to boost the performance of classical machines, and supercomputing hardware keeps getting better. But researchers and companies are working hard to claim the title, running tests against some of the world's most powerful supercomputers.

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Where is a quantum computer likely to be most useful first?

One of the most promising applications of quantum computers is for simulating the behavior of matter down to the molecular level. Auto manufacturers like Volkswagen and Daimler are using quantum computers to simulate the chemical composition of electrical-vehicle batteries to help find new ways to improve their performance. And pharmaceutical companies are leveraging them to analyze and compare compounds that could lead to the creation of new drugs.

The machines are also great for optimization problems because they can crunch through vast numbers of potential solutions extremely fast. Airbus, for instance, is using them to help calculate the most fuel-efficient ascent and descent paths for aircraft. And Volkswagen has unveiled a service that calculates the optimal routes for buses and taxis in cities in order to minimize congestion. Some researchers also think the machines could be used to accelerate artificial intelligence It could take quite a few years for quantum computers to achieve their full potential. Universities and businesses working on them are facing a shortage of skilled researchers in the field and a lack of suppliers of some key components. But if these exotic new computing machines live up to their promise, they could transform entire industries and turbocharge global innovation.

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What is a qubit?

Today's computers use bits a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing 1s or 0s. Everything from your tweets and e-mails to your iTunes songs and YouTube videos are essentially long strings of these binary digits.

Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits, which are typically subatomic particles such as electrons or photons. Generating and managing qubits is a scientific and engineering challenge. Some companies, such as IBM, Google, and Rigetti Computing, use superconducting circuits cooled to temperatures colder than deep space. Others, like IonQ, trap individual atoms in electromagnetic fields on a silicon chip in ultra-high-vacuum chambers. In both cases, the goal is to isolate the qubits in a controlled quantum state.

Qubits have some quirky quantum properties that mean a connected group of them can provide way more processing power than the same number of binary bits. One of those properties is known as superposition and another is called entanglement.

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