Lost to some extent in all the timely buzz and hubbub these days about 5G, Edge Computing and the like is the ongoing realization of quantum computing being put to work for the benefit of humanity. And considering what’s gone on so far in 2020, we could certainly use as much benefit as we can get right about now. We can go ahead and assume that most of you who’d be reading this blog have enough industry wherewithal to know what quantum computing is, but in case that’s not you we’ll go over that briefly before we proceed.
And proceed to what? Well, it would appear that quantum computing is going to be making a whole host of ‘beyond our abilities’ largest scale computing stumbling blocks much less of stumbling blocks for countries and societies that are trying to get the very most of out of technological advances to make life better for all of us. We’re like any Canadian web hosting provider here at 4GoodHosting in that we can relate to just how big a deal this can be.
But we promised a brief intro to quantum computing –
What is Quantum Computing?
Why don’t we go with old faithful and take a definition directly from Wikipedia – Quantum computing is the use of quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computation. By superpositioning Quantum bits, computer scientists are able to encode multiple values at the same time. For the last 40+ years they’ve only been able encode single values one by one, and this has hampered the speed with which certain equations can be put into use.
That’s a very brief and perfunctory look at it, but it will suffice for now.
To add a little more though, what computer scientists are looking to quantum computing to do is provide answers to the effective ways certain inapplicable solutions or equations can become applicable. Another relevant term here is constructive quantum interference, which is where quantum computers amplify certain signals over others to provide clues to as to finding these answers.
It’s been suggested that quantum computers may well have the ability to counter climate change, provide a cure for cancer, and provide solutions to civic and global issues of all sorts. While that’s wishful thinking and possible, it really remains to be seen whether or not those are realistic expectations.
The Promising Algorithms
Some of you many not even be aware of it, but it’s probably at least once or twice a day that you’re thwarted in your attempt to do something based on the failings of the device you’re asking to do it. Nine times out of 10 that has less to do with the device itself and more to do with the framework it’s working with. For example, in reference to the first algorithm we’re going to look at below – imagine being asked to find a listing in an unordered list that that’s not regulated from top to bottom by some sort of criteria. No alphabetical means of reference, no numerical – no nothing.
- Grover’s algorithm
That would be quite a task unless the list was only a short one of say 50 or less entries. Imagine it being a thousand plus entries, and you’re expected to find that one listing in less than a minute. Those are the types of demands that will be put on quantum computers if they’re to be trusted with very important tasks like – for example – the ‘smart’ traffic lights that are supposedly not far away and sound oh so good for everyone who hates how horrific traffic is in major cities.
Ok, enough about that and onto Grover’s algorithm.
We wish we could make a legit reference to Sesame Street here, but afraid not. This one is named after the man who developed it in 1196. What it does is finds the inverse of a function in O(√N) steps, and it can also be used to search an unordered list. It provides a quadratic speedup over classical methods, which need O(N) steps.
A lot of tech speak there for sure, but that’s the nature of what’s being discussed here.
Other applications include estimating the mean and median of a set of numbers, solving the collision problem, and reverse-engineering cryptographic hash functions. Because of the cryptographic application, researchers may recommend that the doubling of symmetric key lengths to protect against future quantum attacks.
- Shor’s algorithm
This one is also named after the creator, and what it does is it finds the prime factors of an integer. It runs in polynomial time in log(N), and that makes it so much speedier than any standard number field sieve. Public-key cryptography schemes, such as RSA, are not so isolated if there are quantum computers with a sufficient number of qubits and building based on Shor’s algorithm makes that more of a possibility.
However, whether quantum computers ever become big and reliable enough to run Shor’s algorithm successfully against the sort of large integers used in RSA encryption remains to be seen. If they do, then there would be some fallout in any industry relying on crypto-encryption like banking as it would put those powers in the hands of those who’d use it for illicit aims too.
Much of this has been put to trial with the Quantum Learning Machine, which behaves as though it has 30 to 40 qubits. The hardware/software package includes a quantum assembly programming language and a Python-based high-level hybrid language. A few national labs and technical universities are using it, and it’s been quite a success at giving looks into how this all might work.
Google, Microsoft, Intel, and IBM All in on This
Google AI is focusing its research on superconducting qubits with chip-based scalable architecture targeting two-qubit gate error to build a framework capable of implementing a quantum neural network on near-term processors, and on quantum supremacy. Two years ago there was a whole lot of fanfare around it’s introduction of the Bristlecone superconducting chip, and it’s likely we haven’t the last of it.
IBM has given us its Q systems, and is offering three ways to access its quantum computers and quantum simulators, and late last year (2019) they debuted an new generation of IBM Q system sporting a full 53 qubits at the IBM Quantum Computation Center in New York.
Intel’s contribution to all of this is has been Tangle Lake, a superconducting quantum processor that incorporates 49 qubits in a package that is capable of scaling upward from 17 qubits in its predecessor.
And of course, Microsoft is in on the action too, as they’ve been researching the development and application of quantum computing since before the turn on the last century. Between their Q# programming language and their QDK kit, it’s not long before quantum computers will be available as co-processors in the Azure cloud.
And if you’re wondering, here’s 10 areas where Quantum Computing may be making life better for humans:
- More accurate and practical AI (artificial intelligence)
- Weather Forecasting and Mitigating Climate Change
- Drug Development
- Financial Modeling
- Better Batteries
- Cleaner Fertilization
- Traffic Optimization
- Solar Capture
- Electronic Materials Discovery
It’s all genuinely quite exciting, so we don’t know about you but we’ll be keeping an eye on all this in a big way.