The technology behind everyday computers such as smartphones and laptops has revolutionized modern life to such an extent that it has become an integral part of our everyday lives. But an alternative computer method is moving forward rapidly, and Boris Johnson is one of the people who noticed. He will have to go beyond the limits of his linguistic dexterity to explain it.
Quantum computing is based on quantum physics, the study of how the subatomic particles that make up the universe work. Last week the Prime Minister promised that the UK would “go big in quantum computing” by building a general-purpose quantum computer and secure 50% of the global quantum computing market by 2040. Britain needs to move forward, however: Big strides have been taken this year by technology superpowers China and the US.
Peter Leek, professor and quantum computing expert at Oxford University, says that “classical” computing (the common term for computing as we know it), an incredible achievement of the laws of physics as we know it, does not take full advantage of it “.
However, working on quantum physics has enabled us to use a new and more powerful way of processing information. “If you can use the principles of quantum physics to process information, you can do a number of calculations that normal computers can’t,” says Leek.
Classic computers encode their information in bits – represented as 0 or 1 – which are transmitted as an electrical impulse. A text message, email, or even a Netflix movie streamed on your phone are a number of those parts. In quantum computers, however, the information is contained in a quantum bit or qubit. These qubits – embedded in a humble chip – are particles like electrons or photons that can be in multiple states at the same time, a property of quantum physics known as superposition. This means that qubits can encode different combinations of ones and zeros at the same time – and calculate their way through a variety of different results.
“If you compare memory in a normal computer, it is in a unique state of ones and zeros, which are ordered in a certain way. In a quantum computer, this memory can be in all possible states of ones and zeros at the same time, ”says Leek.
In order to really use this power, the qubit pairs need to be “entangled”: If you double the number of qubits, the computing power increases exponentially. Link these entangled qubit pairs together and you have a very powerful computer that can process numbers at unprecedented speed, provided there is a quantum algorithm (the instructions the computer followed) to do the computation you want.
Jay Gambetta, a VP of Quantum Computing at IBM, who was introduced last week the most powerful quantum processor in the world, says: “The combined system has a computing power that is much higher than that of the individual systems.” The US-made Eagle quantum processor of the computer company – a kind of computer chip – lines up 127 qubits, compared to 66 that were recently made by the university of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei.
Gambetta points out that the practical uses of quantum computers are not there yet, but in theory they could have exciting uses, such as in the development of new chemicals, drugs, and alloys. Quantum computing could lead to a much more efficient representation of chemical compounds, says Gambetta, which predicts exactly what a complex molecule could do and paves the way for new drugs and materials. “It gives us a way to better model nature,” he adds.
There are ways quantum computers could also help fight global warming, says Gambetta, by separating carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide more efficiently, thereby reducing the amount of CO. is reduced2 in the atmosphere. Alternatively, quantum computers could help understand how we can make fertilizer with much less energy.
Last year, IBM teamed up with the German automobile manufacturer Daimler, the mother of Mercedes-Benz, to use quantum computers to model new models Lithium batteries. Renewable energies, medicines, electric cars, fertilizers: if these are just some of the products that quantum computing can improve, then the UK understandably wants to be at the forefront of the market.
Once quantum computing has reached the 1,000-qubit level, it should be able to achieve what IBM calls the “quantum advantage,” where a quantum computer resolves problems consistently faster than a traditional computer. IBM hopes to hit 1,000 qubits through its Condor processor in 2023.
Britain’s strong university system – and a long history of innovation, embodied by Alan Turing in computer science and Paul Dirac in quantum mechanics – gives the country hope of achieving Johnson’s goal. But Gambetta’s IBM colleague Bob Sutor says education and skills are vital – at the university level and below, including schools – for the UK and other countries seeking ambitious advances in quantum computing. “The more people work on it, the faster we’ll be there.”