Growing up in the late ’80s – early ’90s was an exciting time when household Computing was becoming the new trend as Personal computers became smaller & cheaper with intuitive graphical interfaces and added capabilities. And then came the Internet which really kick-started the growth of the tech economy. Original computer systems were based on microchips (invented in 1958), which had a number of transistors per square inch on them. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s observation of a doubling of transistors per square inch on a microchip got coined into what become famously known as “Moore’s Law.” Moore’s Law deduced that computing power roughly doubled every 12 months while the price got cheaper at the same time. Intel has relied on Moore’s Law to fuel chip innovation for the past 50 years, but the recent revolutionary developments in Computing technology point towards an end to the transistor-based era.
Some pundits point to the fact that the relationship between computers getting smaller & faster is either slowing down or has come to a dead end. The News media coverage of Moore’s Law (chart above) shows that once a popular term has fallen out of favor as the driving factor fueling the growth of Computing. The reason – Quantum Computing, which is increasingly heard of in the electronic media. To put it simply, Quantum machines are supercomputers with advanced processing powers. They have provided the engine for exponential growth to the current computing machines. With the capability of performing complex calculations, multiple data sets and numerous variables, Quantum Machines offer a clear edge to the efficiency over the current transistor-based computer systems. It has a huge potential to disrupt every industry across the Global Landscape. So how do Quantum computers achieve this – the answer lies in the infrastructure of these machines. But for that, we first need to understand how the traditional transistor-based microchips process information.
The traditional computers processed information in the form of bits. These bits are stored on the transistors in either 0 or 1. These two states act as electronic ON-OFF switches performing calculations by alternating between the two states. Quantum computers, on the other hand, don’t use transistors. The process information with the help of Qubits. What makes Quantum machines so fast is the ability of these Qubits to exist simultaneously in both states 0 an 1, also exhibiting the properties of both states. This property along with Quantum computers reliance on naturally occurring quantum-mechanical phenomena – Superposition and Entanglement – provide these machines the ability to perform massively complex calculations with efficiency & accuracy. The exponential growth in the rise of Quantum computers in the past two decades reiterates the fact that Moore’s Law has become redundant.
As per the figure below, the first quantum machine was successfully tested by the University of Oxford Researchers in 1998 that could only process 2 qubits. Move ahead to 2017, IBM devised a quantum machine with 50 qubits processing power – a 25X computing power increase. In 2018, Google has already demonstrated 72 qubits information processing power. Now, Rigetti Computing, a Berkley (California) – based startup is on a mission to build the World’s most powerful quantum computer yet with 128 qubits processing power. Their mission – To solve humanity’s biggest problems. Steve Jurvetson, an investor in D-Wave Systems (Canada headquartered & an early leader specializing in hybrid-quantum and classical machines) has coined a new word for the increasing capacity of quantum computers as “Rose’s Law.” It gives us a parallel definition to the quantum computing growth when compared to Moore’s Law in semiconductor-based machines.
The three types of Quantum computing are already providing some real-world use cases.
- Quantum Annealing – Used for solving optimization problems. Volkswagen in partnership with Google & D-Wave systems ran an experiment to regulate & optimize traffic flows in the overcrowded city of Beijing, China. The computing algorithms successfully reduced traffic congestion by choosing an ideal path for every vehicle. Imagine the streamlining we can achieve by applying this solution to Global travel & Logistics.
- Quantum Simulation – This can solve problems in quantum Physics & Chemistry which are beyond the scope & capability of traditional computers. Simulating sub-atomic particles or individual protein structures becomes a reality with quantum simulations. These simulations will have far-reaching consequences in the Healthcare & Scientific industries.
- Universal Quantum – This truly futuristic quantum computer will have the capacity of 100,000 qubits with upwards of 1M qubits processing power. These machines will far outperform the current quantum machines which can only perform 128 qubit calculations. Imagine the utility of such machines is solving astronomical problems as we enter the age of space travel. We will have to wait for a while for the availability of these machines even with the current rate of growth. However, Researchers have been working on universal quantum computer specific algorithms for quite some time now –Shor’s algorithm for factoring numbers (to be used for advanced code breaking), and Grover’s algorithm for quickly searching unstructured and massive sets of data (to be used for advanced internet search, etc) are two most well-known in this regard. Going forward Universal quantum computers could have huge applications in the field of Artificial Intelligence.Harnessing the power of these quantum machines to perform complex calculations on massive amounts of data that we produce in the internet age is of paramount importance. It is still early days & we still need stable software & hardware development platforms along with channels for the distribution (Cloud computing) for this revolutionary technology. Having said that, the ballooning interest & investment of Tech giants, Big corporations, Consulting firms & Governments in quantum computing projects points to coming of a new age of Computing… I am excited.