Quantum computing is an emerging technology that aims to harness the laws of quantum physics in order to solve problems that conventional computers can’t. A quantum computer leverages the properties of subatomic particles to perform calculations with power that’s far greater than the computers we’re all familiar with.
And as well as enabling rapid speed, that power means that quantum computers can perform multiple calculations at the same time – creating the potential to solve problems that have, until now, been unsolvable.
How did the field of quantum computing emerge?
Quantum computers were first proposed in the 1980s, by Richard Feynman (American theoretical physicist) and Yuri Manin (Russian mathematician). It was a theoretical solution to the most embarrassing problem in physics: the reality that scientific progress was hindered by an inability to accurately model even relatively simple systems.
Quantum mechanics had been a field of study since the early 1900s, enabling significant leaps in the development of chemistry, condensed matter physics, and new technologies. But because simulating systems of even only a few interacting particles demands more computing power than any existing computer can provide, quantum mechanics has been limited by the speed and complexity at which humans are able to make calculations.
And that’s where the quantum computer comes in.
How could quantum computers revolutionise industries?
Powerful quantum computers have the potential to transform industries. If quantum computing reaches its full potential, it could enable the development of products and services that will redefine manufacturing – for example, with novel chemical discovery and rapid process optimisation.
In healthcare, quantum computers could help to discover drugs and new vaccines in a matter of days, rather than years; which could save lives and dramatically cut healthcare costs.
It could benefit cybersecurity by enabling more complex encryption; improve air space routes and robot paths to increase efficiency and cut costs in the transport industry; sort through massive datasets in a very short space of time; and help to discover new materials and improve the exploration of sustainable energy sources.
There are many more potential applications – in space exploration, defence, and more. The power provided by quantum computing has possible benefits to some industries that are currently impossible to measure; and it’s worth noting, too, that while this technology could solve problems faster than ever before, it’s also likely to introduce problems we’ve never encountered at all.
What are the latest developments?
Recent developments in the study of quantum computing include:
- Using machine learning models, researchers from RIKEN Center for Quantum Computing have been able to implement autonomous error correction for quantum computers, with a system that is able to determine the best way to correct errors without manual input.
- Researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan have mathematically derived the fundamental limit of heat current flowing into a quantum system.
- Physicists at Brown University, USA, have introduced a new phase of matter, by detailing how disorder changes quantum spin liquids.
- Innovative chip design that has propelled the potential of quantum tech forward, making it possible to scale quantum tech.
Do quantum computers actually exist?
Yes – functional quantum computers do exist, and some are capable of doing a little work. But as it stands, they’re a long way from fully operational models.
It hasn’t yet been possible to build quantum computers with a large number of quantum bits (qubits) – which are used to process information.
As of November 2022, the most powerful quantum computer in operation is IBM’s Osprey, with 433 qubits. This is a marked increase from the previous leader, Xanadu’s Borealis, which had 204 qubits. And according to IBM, it plans to scale up its quantum computing power to more than 4,000 qubits by 2025.
We’re still in the early stages, and a fully operational high-power quantum computer. But computer scientists are now making faster progress towards the goal of increasing the number of qubits – which is a promising sign that quantum computing research will lead to quantum-powered problem solving in the future.