Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

Quantum computing keeps advancing, and it looks spectacular

January 04, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

About a month ago IBM introduced the Eagle, its first 127-qubit quantum computer.

And it's breathtaking, both on the inside...

... and the outside

Interestingly, this is not just frivolous design. Besides the futuristic looks, quantum computers require some very peculiar architectural designs.

What makes quantum computers special

Regular computers like the one you're using right now store data in bits. You know, zeros and ones. Bits are electric signals transmitted between electronic components, like transistors.

Quantum computers also use the binary system, but they store data on a different medium. They use particles such as electrons or photons, or superconductor cable loops.

These materials are chosen because they have two quantum features which are required, well, to make quantum computers work.

1. Superposition, or the ability to store different status at the same time. Two bits allow the storage of a small number between zero and four. Two qubits allow the storage of four simultaneous numbers. That's four times as much information.

2. Entanglement, or sharing "data" between qubits. Regular bits are independent, but the status of one qubit can influence another qubit.

Interesting applications

The math and physics are complex, but in summary, quantum computers can handle a huge amount of data. They make current supercomputers look like pocket calculators.

That makes them especially useful to solve problems which can only be solved by testing multiple combinations of numbers. For example, drug discovery, cryptography, planning and routing, weather forecast, etc.

You may realize that those are the same problems where we are applying Artificial Intelligence nowadays. That's no coincidence. AI is a technique to solve complex problems with a bit of intelligence, while quantum computers can bruteforce the solution. And both methods can be useful and complementary depending on the situation.

Quantum is the future, but not the present

While the technology is still immature, scientists are preparing for a world with widespread quantum computing capabilities.

In this world, traditional computing will become obsolete, a lot of problems will need to be reassessed, and others will appear.

Who knows? Maybe in thirty years you will be reading my blog on a quantum cellphone... or whatever it is we will use then.

If you want to learn more, I recommend this article in Nature, this introduction to quantum computing in NewScientist and the very enjoyable TV drama about quantum computers Devs

Adapted from my Twitter thread

Tags: hardware, future

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