Researchers across the globe, from the quantum researchers at University of Maryland synthesizing time crystals, to the research team at the University of New South Wales who are embedding atoms and their electrons into silicon, are pushing quantum computers forward, attempting to arrive at the most powerful quantum computing technology.
IBM, Google and Microsoft are racing for quantum supremacy. IBM expects to create a 50-qubit general purpose quantum computer “within the next few years.” Indeed, the next iteration in quantum computing may be near.
Why? Quantum computing could be the best path to ultra-powerful computers, and our best bet to solve unimaginably difficult problems. As our need for powerful processors continues to increase, and problems become larger in scope and complexity, we’ll need more complex computational systems to power solutions.
Quantum Computers in Use
Here are four amazing applications of quantum computers:
Artificial intelligence needs to be able to pull from large datasets of image, video and text. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of content. In fact, there may be an overabundance. Big data is out there to be analyzed, but we need more powerful computers to process the petabytes of unanalyzed data.
Quantum computers could empower machine learning by enabling AI programs to search through these gigantic datasets concerning medical research, consumer behavior and financial markets—and make sense of them.
Imagine, say, you are a traveling salesman. You wish to visit a handful of cities and want to know what the most optimal routes would be. This would be an example of an optimization problem. It sounds simple enough, but, in reality, the process can get quite involved as you up the number of variables. With only 270 destinations, for example, there are more combinations of travel than atoms in the universe.
With quantum computers, however, we could expect a machine to be able to handle almost innumerable permutations and combinations, which could advance system design and analysis in massive ways.
With quantum computers, we can create, simulate and model molecular structures. Researchers at Harvard University used a D-Wave One quantum computer to solve the puzzle of how some proteins fold in 2012.
“The model consisted of mathematical representations of amino acids in a lattice, connected by different interaction strengths,” writes Geoffrey Brumfiel in a news article for Nature about the Harvard researchers’ protein folding models. “The D-Wave computer found the lowest configurations of amino acids and interactions, which corresponds to the most economical folding of the proteins.”
While the technology was nowhere near perfect—as the researchers cited that “10,000 measurements using an 81-qubit version of the experiment gave the correct answer just 13 times”—it was able to accomplish an amazing feat by modeling the behavior of protein folding with some degree of accuracy.
Quantum computing is already on its way. D-wave, a company backed by Goldman Sachs and Bezos Expeditions, among others, deployed its first commercial quantum computer: the D-Wave 2000Q, a quantum annealing system with 2000 qubits and advanced feature controls.
Despite their prohibitive price, these computers are being utilized by a small niche, as illustrated by Harvard’s use of D-wave’s first model back in 2012. The systems could be used for complex financial modeling and risk management within the financial industry as well. Quantum computing could be used to find “new ways to model financial data” and isolate “key global risk factors,” according to IBM.
“It would be great to build systems to help Wall Street better manage risk using this type of technology,” D-Wave Systems President and CEO Vern Brownell told Bloomberg. “They spend a lot on computing power [to manage risk].”
From managing money to massive datasets, quantum computing’s applications are seemingly endless. Advances in machine learning and optimization could boost efficiency dramatically. Biomedical and chemical simulations could help us land more drug discoveries and uncover new medical treatments in record time. Advanced computing power could lead to more than just innovation; it also could lead to lessened risk. Indeed, enhanced financial services could fundamentally change how we invest.
As tech companies, computer scientists, and theoretical physicists help to perfect this technology, these truly amazing applications of quantum computing could become ubiquitous—and drive us further into a quantum age.