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March 17, 2021

Quantum Computing: What to Expect in Advanced Tech

From security to weather forecasts, quantum computing has the potential to change our lives.

Computers have been recognised as the most life-changing and successful invention in the last three decades, enabling us to make phenomenal strides in technological advancements. However, there are problems that even these computers cannot find answers to. Scientists believe that this is where quantum computers come into play.

Quantum computing has gained momentum in recent years as it has moved from an academic concept to a reality. Pioneered by IBM (International Business Machines Corporation), quantum technology is believed to be the next revolution in computation, with companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all investing in a quantum future.

“This is going to be the decade in which quantum really comes of age.”
– DARIO GIL, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF IBM RESEARCH.

Quantum computers operate as a fusion between quantum physics and computer science. Classical computers that we use today encode data and information in Bits that take the value of 0 or 1 in a binary code. Eight bits grouped together make one byte, and one byte can store one character, such as a letter or a number. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use Quantum Bits (also known as qubits), which are typically subatomic particles such as electrons or photons. These subatomic particles enable qubits to take a more fluid, non-binary identity, allowing them to have more than one value.

Their fluidity means that qubits can be a combination of zeros and ones, with some probability of being one and some probability of being zero. This enables a quantum computer to store an enormous amount of information and handle operations at exponentially higher speeds than a conventional computer, all with a much lower rate of energy consumption. However, quantum computers are not intended to replace classical computers in the future. Instead, they would be used to resolve problems of higher complexity and magnitude that are beyond the capabilities of a classical computer.

Many industries would benefit from the remarkable capabilities of these computers, including healthcare, security, finance, and transportation. For instance, they can be used to increase the security of your online data with quantum encryption methods, such as quantum key distribution – an ultra-secure communication method that requires a unique key to decode a message. This would enable financial companies such as banks to use high-security encryption in protecting their data and information.

In medicine, quantum technologies would be able to sequence and analyse human genes, as well as review molecules, proteins, and chemicals, more rapidly than the methods that we use today, freeing up the time and labour of medical staff for more pressing work. Even weather forecasting can benefit from quantum computing: from better, faster, and more accurate weather forecasting to finer insights into climate change, quantum tech could enable us to more adequately prepare for bad weather and build better climate models, perhaps leading us to feasible solutions and real change.

However, with advancements in quantum computing come major concerns for cybersecurity. Although quantum encryption promises high security for people’s data, it also poses the threat of breaking contemporary encryption technologies. Classical computers find it extremely difficult to break present-day encryption codes, as it requires trying out every possible key to find the one that works. Experts estimate that even the world’s fastest supercomputer would need trillions of years to find the right key. But, with quantum computers’ rapid data processing capabilities, locating the relevant key would be a possibility, potentially compromising cybersecurity as it stands today.

Nevertheless, with the rapid growth of the quantum computation sector over the past five years as well as IBM’s recent quantum computing ambitions, such as building a 1000-qubit computer by 2023, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll use quantum computers more frequently in the future, whether for good or bad. Right now, it’s just important to keep an eye on developments in the field so we’re all ready for the technology as it becomes more common.

If you liked this article, you might like our feature about Clinatec’s exoskeleton, which is in development to help paralysed patients regain mobility.

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