Context: Quantum Computers
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- Megacorps such as Microsoft, IBM, and Google have been working on quantum computers.
- Google and NASA have just announced that they have achieved ‘quantum supremacy’. Their quantum computer solved a problem in 200 seconds that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.
- A computer is a programmable machine. The two principal characteristics of a computer are:
- It responds to a specific set of instructions in a well-defined manner
- It can execute a prerecorded list of instructions (a program).
- Modern computers are electronic and digital. The actual machinery — wires, transistors, and circuits — is called hardware; the instructions and data are called software.
- Computers are generally classified by size and power as follows, although there is considerable overlap. The differences between computer classifications generally get smaller as technology advances, creating smaller and more powerful and cost-friendly components.
- Personal computer: a small, single-user computer based on a microprocessor. In addition to the microprocessor, a personal computer has a keyboard for entering data, a monitor for displaying information, and a storage device for saving data.
- Workstation: a powerful, single-user computer. A workstation is like a personal computer, but it has a more powerful microprocessor and a higher-quality monitor.
- Minicomputer: a multi-user computer capable of supporting from 10 to hundreds of users simultaneously.
- Mainframe: a powerful multi-user computer capable of supporting many hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously.
- Supercomputer: an extremely fast computer that can perform hundreds of millions of instructions per second.
- A supercomputer is the fastest computer in the world that can process a significant amount of data very quickly.
- The computing Performance of a “supercomputer” is measured very high as compared to a general purpose computer. It is measured in FLOPS (that is floating-point operations per second) instead of MIPS.
- The supercomputer consists of tens of thousands of processors which can perform billions and trillions of calculations per second, or you can say that supercomputers can deliver up to nearly a hundred quadrillions of FLOPS.
- As of 2018, the largest supercomputer is the Sunway TaihuLight in China. The Sunway TaihuLight is capable of 93 petaflops of processing power and uses a custom operating system, called Sunway RaiseOS.
- A quantum computer is any device for computation that makes direct use of distinctively quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data.
- In a classical computer, information is stored as bits; in a quantum computer, it is stored as qubits (quantum bits).
- The basic principle of quantum computation is that the quantum properties can be used to represent and structure data and that quantum mechanisms can be devised and built to perform operations with this data.
How Do Quantum Computers Work?
- Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured – instead of just 1s or 0s – which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.
- Classical computers carry out logical operations using the definite position of a physical state. These are usually binary, meaning its operations are based on one of two positions. A single state – such as on or off, up or down, 1 or 0 – is called a bit.
- In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce what’s known as a qubit. These states are the undefined properties of an object before they’ve been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarisation of a photon.
- Rather than having a clear position, unmeasured quantum states occur in a mixed ‘superposition’.
Possible Areas of Quantum computing benefits to mankind:
- Study of Exoplanets: Astronomers hunting down exoplanets have mountains of petabytes of data that needs to be processed in order to obtain scientifically relevant insights from it, and this is the sort of data processing that we think quantum computing will change in a transformative way.
- In medicine, quantum computing can possibly accelerate the pace of medical breakthroughs at an incredible rate by processing the kinds of multiple-variable problems that make research in these fields such a challenge. By exploiting the quantum superposition of qubits to model the kinds of analysis used when researching diseases and developing new medicines, we might discover all kinds of new medicines and treatments.
- Superconductivity: The most significant development might be in physics, where researchers exploring superconductivity hope to one day use quantum computing to identify a material that is superconductive at room temperature by using qubits to model different compounds and test their characteristics.
- If such a superconductor is found, then that will change everything, honestly. It would allow us to eliminate energy loss from the transmission of electricity and transform our energy grid, reducing the power generation required to power everything to a fraction of what it is today. If we get our power requirements down enough and we could power the world on renewable energy very, very soon.
- Artificial Intelligence: This could be rocket fuel for artificial intelligence (AI), with quantum computing offering quick feedbacks and collapsing the learning curve of machines. This will make AI more intuitive, expand to various industries and help build artificial general intelligence.
- Climate Change and weather forecasting: Another application lies in weather forecasting and, more importantly, climate-change predictions. It will require the tremendous power of quantum computing to create complex, ever-changing weather models to properly predict and respond to the climate cataclysm that awaits us.
Quantum computers have the potential to revolutionize computation by making certain types of classically intractable problems solvable. Google and NASA’s announcement of achieving ‘quantum supremacy’, opens up a completely new era where we can now focus on building quantum computers with practical benefits and while this will still be many years away, it will be the new frontier in computation.