What's behind the big 'quantum rush'?

Q:

What's behind the big "quantum rush"?

A:

Nations are experimenting with quantum technologies at a rapid pace. The European Union has just set up a “quantum flagship” program to be funded with a billion Euros to supercharge its own quantum computing programs – China has gone even further, experimenting with teleporting quantum particles into space and pursuing other major innovations in quantum mechanics. Others around the world are also pursuing quantum technology fairly aggressively.

Part of what's behind the “quantum rush” is the essential need for humanity to understand ever-more-sophisticated forms of technologies. But there's also a specific driver in applying quantum technology to the technology industry. That's the power of quantum computing to speed up or enhance hardware performance in much the same way that Moore's law predicted performance throughout the 1970s and subsequent decades up until now.

Moore's law reflected the ability to increase the number of transistors on an integrated circuit, which revolutionized consumer technology and changed IT applications to government and business. Essentially, it made hardware smaller – mainframe computers the size of washing machines were shrunk to the smartphones that we now hold in our hands. Perhaps even more important, cameras the size of a traditional film-fed studio camera were miniaturized into nearly microscopic items that can go inside the human body, dramatically changing what the cutting edge of health care looks like, while saving untold numbers of lives.

Quantum computing has the ability to continue this type of progress. Its importance cannot be understated. By applying quantum computing to hardware, tomorrow's manufacturers could get tiny handheld devices that are able to perform elaborate artificial intelligence and machine learning functions, because they can compress so much more data handling into a smaller physical hardware space.

Today's binary computers handle bits of information that are made up of binary states. On the other hand, quantum computers could handle units of information called “qubits” that can represent more than two states through the use of quantum “superpositions.” By transforming the bit into the qubit and the traditional logic gate into the quantum gate, computers can increase performance exponentially, setting off a brand-new race to the top. That's building on the key technological advances of the past, to apply brand-new technology to radically change how we view computers in the near future.

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Written by Justin Stoltzfus
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Justin Stoltzfus is a freelance writer for various Web and print publications. His work has appeared in online magazines including Preservation Online, a project of the National Historic Trust, and many other venues.
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