Computers have brought us a long way in every aspect of our lives. Right from the time that Alan Turing invented the Turing machine to the US Department of Energy’s Summit supercomputer by IBM, which has been declared the world’s fastest super computer. Yet, we still await the arrival of the quantum computer, which while being worked on all over the world, is still not used in mainstream tasks. What exactly is a quantum computer and how will it help us?
Normal computers today, which are classical and are based on the Turing machine, basically transform long lines of ones and zeros, named bits, into logical statements and functions in accordance with a set of rules called Boolean logic. Using this logic, current computers can perform literally billions of calculations per second. Hence, we are able to communicate with computers just by typing on a keyboard or commanding via a microphone.
To understand this better, bestselling author, speaker and innovation advisor, Greg Satell, explains via an example, “To get an understanding of how this works, let’s look at a character. Eight bits gives us 28, or 256, possible combinations, which is plenty of space to accommodate letters, numbers, punctuation and other symbols. With processors able to handle billions of bits per second, we can get quite a lot done even with basic, everyday machines.”
While quantum computers work in a similar way, they use the added quantum concepts of superposition and entanglement, which further produces ‘states’ instead of combinations. It is tough to grasp these states considering they do not resemble any existing physical reality that we know of. However, they represent more than one dimensions where the quantum calculation could take place.
While all this is pretty brain-wrecking, the fact remains that quantum computers have immense potential to help us. For example, online security will double for users all over the cyber world, because quantum computers will be able to process at a break-neck speed. Cybercrime and fraud will take a hit, as long as the criminals don’t get their hands on a quantum computer first.
Crucial development is happening to develop quantum encryption methods such as quantum key distribution, which is a super-secure communication method that needs a key to decipher a message. Thanks to complicated quantum mechanics, in the case that the message gets intercepted, no one else can read it.
The ability to analyse large quantities of data gives quantum computers the ability to give rapid and effective feedback to AI systems, making them learn and improve at a much faster rate than now. Drug development is another field, where the ability of quantum computers to analyse molecules, proteins, and chemicals, can work wonders. Other fields that can benefit from this space are traffic management, weather forecasting, climate change predictions, and national security.
Sadly, quantum computing is still in research phase and very few applications have been introduced so far. One of the biggest challenges in developing quantum computers is apparently hardware issues in the technology. While India is slowly developing interest in this field, it remains limited to academics and research institutes. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the Harish Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad, have their physics departments looking into the theoretical aspects of quantum computing.
Moreover, Raman Research Institute has gathered some infrastructural capability and intellectual expertise to perform advanced research in the areas of quantum information, quantum computing, and quantum communication, with the help of quantum optics.
In addition, the Quantum Measurement and Control Laboratory (QuMaC) at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is exploring the quantum phenomena in superconducting circuits. The Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai has an optics and quantum information group researching quantum algorithms, quantum open systems, and quantum information and quantum simulations. Also, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has infused capital into a project to develop quantum computers.
Einstein himself found the quantum concept of entanglement complicated, calling it ‘spooky’. Us lesser mortals then, can take some more time till we completely grasp and implement these theories into mainstream. Who’s to say it isn’t happening next year?
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