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Quantum Computing 101

shwethaaa profile image Shwetha Jayaraj ・10 min read

--First post: it's kinda hard to join a community of computer science/programmers when you're discussing quantum computers. It's sorta like you have to completely throw away everything you've learned and just be like hey, ready to completely switch up the paradigm again?? & learn something that's completely going to revolutionize technology & the world forever when it hits markets fairly soon??
Well, I guess that's part of the job description of what we've all signed up for: adaptability. With that being said, let's talk quantum.

December 30th, 2019 — Quantum computers have the ability to change life as we know it today. When I discuss quantum computers with others, it is often met with a look of bewildered confusion or of apathetic skepticism. My goal is to clear that here: Although it is commonly disregarded as a technology several decades into the future, quantum computing (herewith referred to as q-computing) will have shown its implications much sooner than people may anticipate. Particularly as humanity enters the next decade, the importance of our awareness in this quantum age becomes increasingly critical. With the 2010s coming to a close, the more we understand how q-computing has advanced thus far, the more prepared &, in fact, more imaginative we can be for its many consequences in our world.
The idea that may not be understood yet about q-computing is that it cannot be compared to a regular computer. Unlike how classical computers have worked for the past 50+years, we will now have computing power using the laws of physics rather than the laws of mathematics to computing nearly any kind of problem in ways we could not have before. This makes any “big problem” or any challenge with a large data-set amount now solvable at an exponential rate. Instead of quantifying the number of 0s and 1s, we will be directly using the spin of quantum particles to allow for decisions to be stored in bits known as qubits. While this may not mean much to the average user, this has enormous consequences for the data scientist, biologist, chemist, economist, psychologist, and quite frankly for society overall.

At the beginning of 2019 (and a huge reason why I moved to New York City), IBM announced the release of its first commercial quantum computing system. In October 2019, Google stated that the company had reached quantum supremacy with its version of the quantum system. Clearly, the quantum race is on and even these companies know the massive implication it will have on society worldwide. However, the majority of the world population does not even know what it is and much less the vast ethical implications it could lead to. Although q-computing is still in its early developmental stage, once it is publicly practical, it will lead to benefits and to complex changes in our society. There are several benefits that can be gained with quantum computers although the ethical consequences of such quantum computers will also be realized.
The enormous consequence for when quantum computers are officially being mass used by companies will mean the undermining of our economic, political, and social realities as we know it today. With quantum computers, nearly every possibility will be realized. For instance, the biological impact it will be enormous. In recent times, there is a large research investment going into modeling molecules & DNA using quantum computing. All sequences in DNA can now be extremely modeled in high detail in ways that classical computers could never have been able to do before with quantum computers with an extreme amount of detail and precision. Quantum computers will output precise models and outcomes due to a large amount of information it can process and intake. This will mean huge implications for the diseases and modifications that the scientific community can do to improve the health and lives of humans to eradicate any kind of illness or disease we may face in the future. We can model nearly any biomedical disease, virus, or molecule with high accuracy to create an impact in medicine for instance.

Beyond affecting the health of every human on Earth, quantum computers can provide us with tools for higher intelligence and security. Essentially every RSA backed security system and even blockchain cryptography can easily be broken with quantum computing using Shor’s algorithm. This has enormous impacts as the world’s security system and financial foundations are completely at risk if quantum computers are put in the wrong hands of the public or utilized by a higher company. Due to the amount of information a quantum computer can process with very low runtimes, they can produce more outputs for possibilities and break not areas in cryptography but also led to higher forms of artificial intelligence. IBM’s supercomputer DeepBlue was able to beat Russian chess player Kasparov in 1997. It was able to gain a competitive advantage because it examined 200 million possible moves each second. A quantum machine, however, would be able to calculate 1 trillion moves per second. This allows for computers to process artificial intelligence in speed that has never been seen before.

When quantum computers do become widely utilized, this will mean a complete transformation of our societies in economic, political, and philosophical contexts. It is nonsensical to write off the coming technology as insignificant because not knowing about how much a technology will change our lives will lead to those who are ignorant to get more easily manipulated by the techno-elite classes. With further examination of what quantum is, has already done, and will do, society will have the understanding to be much more prepared and to enjoy what comes next.

So what IS is quantum science and quantum computing??

A brief background on what quantum physics is and how it led to the mathematical application of quantum computing is needed to understand the magnitude of what it means to our society.
So what is quantum computing?
Quantum computing delves into the area of quantum science & quantum mechanics. In order to understand what a quantum computer is, we need to how quantum science transforms what we know of as the classical computing system into the quantum computer. Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his advancements and findings in quantum mechanics. He implied with his findings, that if you are able to get quantum mechanics to work, it will lead to being able to use this science to compute an exponential amount of information. This took the scientific community by shock and led to a new wave of research dedicated to quantum science & its theoretical applications, eventually leading to the quantum computer. In the quantum system, qubits are used instead of the regular “bit” system we are familiar with in classical computing. The bits in this quantum computer can do more than a bit in a normal computer. In a normal computer, a 0 and a 1 is information. However, in quantum computers, the possibilities vary greatly.

Classical computers manipulate ones and zeroes to crunch through operations, but quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits to span a variety of operations. Just like classical computers, quantum computers use ones and zeros, but qubits have a third state called “superposition” that allows them to represent a one or a zero at the same time. Instead of analyzing a one or a zero sequentially, superposition allows two qubits in superposition to represent four scenarios at the same time. Therefore, the time it takes to crunch a data set is significantly reduced.
But what can quantum computing be used for?

“…nature isn’t classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you’d better make it quantum mechanical…” — Richard Feynman, Simulating Physics with Computers

In 1982, the legendary theoretical physicist Richard Feynman suggested that one of the most powerful applications of quantum computers would be simulating nature itself: atoms, molecules and materials. Many researchers thus have developed algorithms to simulate molecules and materials on NISQ devices (as well as on the fully error-corrected quantum computers of the future). These algorithms could enhance the design of new materials for use in areas ranging from energy to health science. It has also been stated by many experts in the quantum theory field that the more practical examples that quantum computing can be best used for currently is in chemistry and medicine.
For example, while the energies of molecular hydrogen can be computed classically, it is still considered largely inefficient. As one scales up in quantum hardware, it then becomes possible to simulate even larger chemical systems, including “classically intractable” ones. For instance, with only about a hundred reliable quantum bits it is possible to model the process by which bacteria produce fertilizer at room temperature. Using quantum computing to solve this issue could lead to massive implications because the way humans produce fertilizer is extremely inefficient and consumes 1–2% of the world’s energy annually. Such calculations could also assist with breakthroughs in fundamental science, for instance, in the understanding of high temperature superconductivity, according to Google experts.

Though many theoretical and experimental challenges lay ahead, a quantum enabled paradigm shift from qualitative/descriptive chemistry simulations to quantitative/predictive chemistry simulations could modernize the field so dramatically that the examples imaginable today are just the tip of the iceberg.

-Data Science and AI:
We currently live in an age of information overload. We have an entire school of knowledge at our fingertips, and yet most of us do not know how to sift through this information to find the best solution to our challenges that we are looking for. Every day we create volumes of data. In order to adequately process it all to extract meaning from it, we require much more computing power. That’s where quantum computers step in to save the day. Quantum computing will solve all of the massive amounts of data we generate daily and intelligently present the information in meaningful methodization by utilizing a quantumly-computed solution. For instance, it is important to note that on average every day, we produce 2.5 exabytes of data. That number is equivalent to the content on 5 million laptops. Quantum computers will make it possible to process the amount of data we’re generating in the age of big data. For example, recall IBM’s computer Deep Blue that defeated chess champion, Garry Kasparov in 1997. It was able to gain a competitive advantage because it examined 200 million possible moves each second. A quantum machine, however, would be able to calculate 1 trillion moves per second.
Google and many other big companies are still testing these algorithmic solutions that will allow for these quantum computers to perform at much faster runtimes compared to their classical computing counterparts. However, once these algorithms have been experimentally optimized, the amount of data that can be processed to display accurate information is unimaginable.

-Cryptography & security:
“The RSA-2048 Challenge Problem would take 1 billion years with a classical computer. A quantum computer could do it in 100 seconds” -Dr. Krysta Svore, Microsoft Research
With quantum systems now theoretically being able to complete computations in exponential time, this holds major implications in the security of our banking and financial systems in place. Most banks and institutions around the world are encrypted with RSA security and cryptocurrencies are encrypted with the ECC security method. Q-computing, however, breaks both of these kinds of encryption with ease due to the exponential amount of time it takes to solve these algorithms. Instead of breaking RSA encryption with brute force, which is what classical computing is limited to, quantum computers finds the period of a function which contain the RSA key and classically computer the greatest common divisor. This is utilizing Shor’s algorithm, a specifically designed quantum algorithm mathematically proven in 1994.

Therefore, with a quantum computer, virtually any encryption that is in place today can be broken with a q-computing, including all contemporary forms of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Although many are at work to try to work for a “quantum-safe” future, nothing has come of light yet. Essentially all forms of encryption that we have today are unsafe from the computing power of quantum machines due to the many algorithms that prove it to be so. Hence, it is safe to assume that quantum computers will change the landscape of data security in the years to come. Even though quantum computers would be able to crack many of today’s encryption techniques, predictions are that institutions will rise to the occasion in order to create hack-proof replacements.
Even now, a “post-quantum paper” has been created and although we are still a few years away from a total q-computing migration, efforts are still being made to ensure safety in the case when quantum encryption arrives.

-Aircraft Design:
Although not all of quantum computer’s applications are being directly practiced right now, the European aircraft company Airbus has directly taken swift steps in order to ensure that their company is on the cutting edge of this highly useful technology. Rather than building a quantum computer itself, it is stated that Airbus is working with academia and IT companies to define the algorithms needed to utilize the immense power of the new technology. The company could then potentially use quantum computers in digital modeling and simulation, such as the airflow over its airliners’ wings to improve efficiency. In fact, Silicon Valley technology is coming to the Welsh Valleys with Airbus setting up a quantum computing unit at its Newport plant.
This pan-European aerospace group is working at the frontiers of computing to discover how to harness the immense processing power expected to come from quantum computers, which could be used to improve computer modeling and simulation.
“At the moment it can take seven years or more to completely model air going over a wing,” said Mr Bianco. “With quantum computing, it could take just a matter of weeks to model every single atom of air flowing over a wing at all angles and speeds, from nothing to hypersonic.”

What are the ethical concerns of quantum computers?
Once a stable quantum computer gets developed, expect that machine learning will exponentially accelerate even reducing the time to solve a problem from hundreds of thousands of years to seconds. This could lead to massive changes to our society, leading to unimaginable amounts of ethical changes that we as a society have to consider as a whole. This year, Google stated publicly that it would produce a viable quantum computer in the next 5 years and added that they would reach “quantum supremacy” with a 50-qubit quantum computer. The top supercomputers can still manage everything a five- to 20-qubit quantum computer can, but will be surpassed by a machine with 50 qubits and will attain supremacy at that point. Shortly after that announcement, IBM said it would offer commercial quantum machines to businesses within this year. Even though a widespread q-computing era is not yet embraced, the race to become on top for that future is clearly taking place.

Without getting too technical on q-computing theory, I enjoy exploring the innovation that companies both corporate and start-up alike have achieved in the quantum sector within the most recent years. I hope to probe the differences between each company’s approach as well as the significant contributions to this new computing space as a means to help solve many of humanity’s great incomplete (or NP-complete in computer scientist terms) problems. As a computer science student myself & a creative, I can only enthusiastically imagine the places that the solutions of q-computing can take us. I couldn’t be more excited. :)
Upon findings, I hope readers grasp the monumental implications of what q-computing could suggest, particularly in the area of global economic system transformation as well as the plethora of socio-economic changes created with the advent of quantum supremacy. With the proper education, it is only with large imaginations & ambitions that the greatest problems can then be solved. With this in mind, q-computing can assist humanity in doing exactly that.

(taken from my medium post)

Discussion (3)

shaijut profile image
Shaiju T

I didn't understand the statement With the 2010s coming to a close We are in 2020 😄.

shwethaaa profile image
Shwetha Jayaraj Author

I had written this on December 31, 2019 as noted in the beginning of the post. Just reposting on here for my first post xD originally posted on medium at the end of 2019
from here on out, only 2020s though! :)

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