How computers actually work is a mystery to many people. How quantum computing works is a mystery to just about everyone. Indeed, putting the word “quantum” in front of anything renders it incomprehensible to a vast majority of people.
In short, traditional computer operations are binary. They are based on the oft-mentioned “ones and zeros” of computer language. A bit in a traditional computer at any specific point in time represents either of these. Quantum computing features qubits, which allow both one and zero to be represented simultaneously. This capability exponentially multiplies the computing capacity of the machine.
During the past few years, quantum computing has gone from science fiction to the real world. ITWorld reported today that IBM has put a 16-qubit computer online for its cloud platform. A 17-qubit system is in the lab. Since nothing about quantum computing makes sense, it is not surprising that a 17-qubit system offers twice the performance of a 16-qubit device.
That 5-qubit system is capable of calculations on 32 different inputs simultaneously. To date, IBM says, 300,000 experiments have been done on the platform.
Big Blue’s quantum research is being conducted by IBM Q, an initiative announced in early March. The goal is to use cloud-based quantum computing to vastly extend the capabilities of IBM Watson. A caption to a photo accompanying the initial press release announcing the initiative and some of the elements of the project said that one of the first applications that will be looked at relates to chemistry. It is possible, the release said, that new medicines and materials will result.
Whether it makes their heads spin or not, long- and medium-range planners need to begin considering how quantum computing will affect their businesses. David Schatsky, the managing director of Deloitte LLP, posted a commentary today at Computerworld noting that $147 million in venture capital and $2.2 billion in worldwide government funding has been invested in quantum computing research during the past three years. In addition to Microsoft, big names such as Google and Microsoft are mentioned in the story. Startups and quantum computing-specific companies mentioned include Rigetti computing, 1Qbit and Cambridge Quantum Computing.
The piece also lists D-Wave, a company that claims to have developed the first quantum computer. The area is so complex that nobody can say definitively whether the claim is true or not.
The devices are especially well suited to solve problems that involve finding needles in massively huge haystacks. “Quantum computers, for example, might be able to find distant habitable planets, the cure for cancer and Alzheimer's disease or revamp complex airline flight schedules,” Schatsky wrote.
Investments of more than $2.3 billion make one thing clear: Very smart people think quantum computing is the next step. Planners must take this seriously.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.