The era of quantum computing is now closer than probably any of us realize, promising a radical new era of technological advance.
IBM recently announced at a San Francisco developer conference that the company has created a 50-qubit quantum computer, easily the most state-of-the-art machine in existence.
A quantum computer is able to make calculations considerably beyond the limits of a classic supercomputer.
This is achieved through qubits, which store the information of a quantum computer in the way that is similar to a normal computer, which stores information through the 0s and 1s of binary code.
Qubits differ from the more traditional binary code, however, in that qubits can exist in “superpositions” of 0 and 1 on an atomic scale.
A particle that small in size can actually exist in different states, that is, in many different positions at once. It also involves a process called “entanglement,” in which changing the state of one particle instantaneously affects the state of another particle.
Because of the variations over binary and the speed of entanglement, quantum computers can derive more, and more varied, computations.
To proponents of quantum computing the most exciting immediate benefit of significantly higher processing power would be to develop new drugs more efficiently, thus offering them to patients at a lower cost.
This new processing power also could upend the field of cryptography and cryptocurrency. Previously impregnable security codes would now be left completely vulnerable.
In fact, it would be downright easy for a quantum computer to break these codes.
IBM isn’t the only company that has gone full steam ahead on quantum computing.
Microsoft is working rapidly to develop a quantum computer, though it has yet to even develop a working qubit. This is because Microsoft is looking to fundamentally alter the qubit and make the qubit much more error-free.
Todd Holmdahl, head of Microsoft’s quantum team, says that the Redmond, Washington software giant is now “immensely close” to its goal.
Google, the other big player in the field of quantum computing, is focused on improving the qubit, too. However, Google is more interested in developing a quantum computer that could solve a problem that only the most advanced of our existing supercomputers could solve.
Google believes demonstrating this fact would bring on the dawn of “quantum supremacy.”
To achieve this goal, Google has developed a 49-qubit computer. It has not, as of yet, commented whether their computer has been successful in solving the problem.
Even if a quantum computer is successful at the task, the proof would need to be reviewed by a scientific publication before it would be announced to the public.