Quantum Computing - What You Should Know

Quantum computing is moving from Science Fiction to Reality. Unlike normal computer bits, the qubit units used by quantum computers store information in two-state systems, such as electrons or photons, that are considered to be in all possible quantum states at once, a phenomenon known as super-position.

Here is what you need to know:

The first thing to know about quantum computing is that it won’t displace traditional, or ‘classical’ computing. 

The second thing to know: Quantum computing is still a nascent technology that probably won’t be ready for prime time for several more years.

And the third thing you should know? The time to start protecting your data’s security from quantum computers is now.

Here’s an overview of what you should know about quantum computing.

Quantum Computing Explained
The classical computers we’ve used for decades use a sequence of binary bits. Each bit is always in one of two definitive states – 0 or 1 – that act as on and off switches to drive computer functions.

In contrast, a quantum computer uses quantum bits, or qubits. Each qubit can represent both a 0 and a 1 simultaneously. Consequently, quantum computers can store far more information than classical computers and have the potential to process massive amounts of calculations running in parallel within seconds, far faster than the fastest classical computers.

Quantum-Computing Terms
Briefly, a few quantum computing terms to know are:

Quantum mechanics, aka quantum physics. A theory in physics that describes nature in terms of atoms and subatomic particles. Quantum computers are based on quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement.
Superposition. A qubit can be more than one thing at a time through a quantum-mechanics principle called superposition. Superposition gives quantum computers their speed and parallelism, enabling them to work on millions of computations at once, says Matthew Brisse, Vice President of Research for Data Center and Cloud Infrastructure with the Gartner for Technical Professionals service.
Entanglement is when qubits are linked with other qubits, so that the state of one qubit can depend upon the state of another. With entanglement combined with superposition, quantum computers have the potential to simultaneously process a vast number of possible outcomes.

The bottom line: “With quantum computing, we can do things in massively parallel systems that we couldn’t do before,” says Brisse.

Quantum-Computing Origins
During a 1959 lecture, physicist Richard Feynman, who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II, raised the possibility of quantum computing. In the early 1980s, the concept of quantum computing started to talk hold, thanks to the work of Feynman, Paul Benioff and others.

“By the early 1980s, it was clear that in addition to conventional computing, we could do computations using the rule of quantum mechanics,” says Bob Wisnieff, IBM’s CTO of quantum computing.

“The question was, if you had a computer built on quantum mechanics, what kinds of computations could be done easier and faster? That question kicked off research into quantum computing at IBM.”

Why we’re talking about quantum computing now
To be sure, quantum computing is still in its infancy. Only 1 percent of organisations are budgeting for quantum computing projects, according to Brisse. But that’s expected to grow to 20 percent by 2023. So, why is quantum computing blipping on our radar screens now?

“We’re reaching the limits of what a classical computer can do,” says Ashish Nadkarni, Program Vice President of Computing Platforms, Worldwide Infrastructure at IDC. 

Many (though not all) experts believe that the phenomenon of Moore’s Law is coming to an end or is at least slowing to a crawl. At the same time, a growing number of companies, such as Google, have “an insatiable need for compute power,” Nadkarni says. Thus, the growing interest in quantum computing.

Quantum Computing Applications
Currently, quantum computers can only run limited business applications and specific quantum algorithms. Some believe quantum computers will always be specialised vs. general purpose. And most experts in the field say that quantum computers will integrate and work with, rather than replace, classical computers.

Given that, quantum computers are most likely to be used when there’s a huge volume of data to process within seconds.

“Financial-services companies could benefit from quantum computing, especially with services where the volume of data related to trades is high, and they want to simulate outcomes in seconds,” says Nadkarni.

Other likely applications: Drug and biotech research, gene editing and simulation, quantum chemistry, artificial intelligence, traffic pattern analysis, weather forecasting and cryptography.

“Quantum computers will be particularly good at solving big optimization problems, such as shipping logistics,” says Brisse.  

What enterprises should do to prepare for Quantum Computing

Move toward quantum-safe encryption. Because they can crunch unprecedented amounts of numbers in practically no time, there’s a fair amount of hand-wringing that for quantum computers might one-day crack even the strongest encryptions available today.

“If you have a big-enough machine, a quantum computer could instantly break all encryption,” says Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President of Hybrid Cloud and Director of IBM Research. He predicts that won’t happen for at least five years.

Even so, anyone who wants to ensure their organisation’s data is safe for more than 10 years should start migrating toward quantum-safe encryption now, such as lattice cryptography.

Quantum computers have potential applications in cryptography, artificial intelligence, and weather forecasting because each additional qubit becomes entangled, or tied inextricably, to the others, exponentially increasing the number of possible outcomes for the measured state at the end. This very benefit, however, also has adverse effects on the system because errors may also scale exponentially with problem size.

Some experts predict that in the future, quantum computations of complex nuclei could even unravel important details about the properties of matter, the formation of heavy elements, and the origins of the universe.

NetworkWorld:        ScienceDaily:

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