But that might be a problem. Technology has enabled us to do so much today, and we are obviously going to expect it to perform even more complex tasks in the future. Luckily, quantum computers might hold the solution to this problem. Using the concept of superposition from quantum mechanics, computers in the future might be able to work a hundreds of times faster than today’s computers.
Let me first give you an idea about a classical computers’ (today’s computers) working: each transistor can be in a ‘on’ state, when it conducts electricity, or an ‘off’ state, when it doesn’t. A combination of ‘on’ aka. ‘1’ and ‘off' aka. ‘0’ defines every operation of a computer. The greater the number of transistors, the greater the on and off states and the more the combinations of these 1,0 binary states - all leading to faster, more powerful computers.
The quantum computer has a trick up its sleeve: using ‘qubits’. Just like classic computers are based on ‘bits’, i.e. 1 and 0, quantum computers use ‘qubits’, which can hold the values 1, 0 and any superposition between the two. Didn’t understand? Read on.
This may not be the perfect explanation, so I highly recommend you watch this video to understand the concept better...
Because a Quantum Computer runs on multiple states and not just 1 and 0, it can complete a million calculations in the same time a classic computer takes to complete one. A 30-qubit quantum computer is equivalent to a 10 teraflops of computing power - as compared to a few gigaflops of today’s average computers.
Quantum computers are still in their infancy, but they might be in considerable existence in the next few decades. Most of the work done on quantum computing is theoretical, but Canadian company D-Wave, along with minds from Google and NASA, built a quantum computer to solve complex mathematical equations, and ask the most challenging optimisation problems.
The D-Wave 2X, which is the latest D-Wave computer with 1000+ qubits, uses the technique of quantum annealing to finding the global minimum of a function (think about it as the cheapest way to travel 20 cities -taking into consideration hundreds of variables like ticket prices, flights, time duration etc.). The computer operates at almost absolute zero temperature, at 15 miliKelvin or -273.135 degrees celsius. The processor is just thumb-sized, but with the refrigerator, the system is the size of a large server.
Whatever be the case, there is a lot to expect from quantum computers. There are many researchers and companies like Google and Microsoft working to develop quantum computing systems that offer a significant performance boost from already existing supercomputers, while reducing error rates in observing qubits and running more stable systems. Only time will tell when quantum computers will replace modern supercomputers and eventually make their way to the general public.
Until then, we can only wonder what’s possible using quantum computers. "Are we alone in this universe?" might just have a valid answer in the coming years!
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