What is Quantum Computing and How Does it Work?

We’re constantly trying to make things faster and more efficient. Just think about how computers have evolved over the last 40 years: from clunky machines that hardly anyone owned to pocket-sized devices everyone is expected to have. And now scientists and technology companies are looking to take them to a whole new level with the help of quantum mechanics. But how?

Quantum Mechanics in a Computer

Quantum mechanics shows that subatomic particles can exist in more than one state at any given time. And quantum computers work by applying this to computers. While regular computers run on bits, basic units of data that can store either a zero or a one, Quantum computers run on qubits. And these can store both a one and a zero at the same time.

What Does This Mean?

Capable of being both a one and a zero at the sam time unlike bits in normal computers, qubits can perform tasks very quickly. To get an idea of how quickly, physicist David Deutsch says that quantum computers can work on a million computations at once, while normal desktops can only work on one at a time.

Cyber Security

Beyond making processing times a lot faster, this technology will also change cyber security. To begin, it’ll make current ways to secure information useless. Current encryption methods work by scrambling messages into long, unintelligible codes that can only be decoded and updated by the sender and recipient. With normal computers, they are very difficult to decode. Quantum computers however, able to process information much faster, would easily be able to decode these messages.

And so, to keep our information safe, Quantum Key Distribution is being developed. This security method will use light particles (photons) to encode data in qubits before sending it to someone. Relying on quantum indeterminacy, which states that you can’t measure something without changing its state, if a hacker would ever try to intercept a message, it would change and become unrecognisable. The sender and recipient would then immediately be notified for a new message to be sent.

Do They Exist Yet?

Already, IBM has made a 20-qubit computer software available through its cloud platform. More complex systems, like a 50-qubit system (something that will be able to go beyond any task that a normal computer can solve) are still under development however.

The Future

The future looks optimistic for quantum computers. The University of Tokyo for example recently claimed to have found a method to create a million-qubit quantum computer. On top of this, Microsoft and Google are currently working on these machines. The Chinese government has even announced that it will spend $10 billion to build the world’s biggest quantum research facility in Hefei, the capital of its Anhui province.

To conclude, quantum computing works by using the laws of physics to make computers both much faster and more secure. Although not quite a reality yet, industry leaders and governments seem to be taking a strong interest in the  technology.