Quantum Computers in a Nutshell
Explaining what quantum computers are, how they work, companies involved in them and challenges facing quantum computers
If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not speak then unto me. -William Shakespeare
If you have your ear to the ground tech-wise you'll know that four pieces of tech have been making huge rotations -Blockchain, AI, IoT and Quantum computers.
In this article, we're going to be talking about quantum computers, what they mean, how they work, how they will be used and where they are right now.
photo credits: IBM
What are Quantum Computers
According to Wikipedia, quantum computers are devices that harness the collective properties of quantum states, such as superposition, interference, and entanglement, to perform calculations.
To fully understand quantum computers you must understand quantum physics(at least a watered-down version of it 😅). I tried to use as many simple words as possible, but If at any point in time during my explanations you don't understand anything remember this quote by Richard Feynman, the father of quantum computers - "If anyone tells you they understand quantum mechanics then they don't understand quantum mechanics". In essence, no one understands quantum physics, even the pioneers.
Quantum physics is physics which deals with the behaviour and interaction of particles (i.e protons, electrons etc) in the quantum realm and how they affect our physical world.
Now when the concepts of quantum physics are used to manipulate particles to perform computation, quantum computation comes about and this then brings about quantum computers.
In simple words, quantum computers are computers that make use of quantum physics concepts to process data and output it as information the same way normal computers work but with atomic particles.
How do Quantum Computers Work
photo credits: IBM
To fully understand how quantum computers work perform processing, you must first understand how classical computers process data.
Classical computers process data through binary (i.e 0s and 1s, on or off), these 0s and 1s are designed and implemented into something called logic gates which are at the core just simple rules which guide the use of 0s and 1s to process data.
Now for a computer to physically process data they make use of things called transistors, transistors are just the physical implementation of a lot of logic gates that are designed to perform the processing of commands/data.
For instance, you have a doorbell, the circuit which helps the doorbell work is made of a bunch of transistors that are arranged (designed) in such a way that once you ring a doorbell the sound is then played for people to hear.
Now the relationship between transistors and logic gates is at the core similar to a sketch by a sculptor before he starts to sculpt. So logic gates are just like a way to sketch out how transistors will be arranged in a system(like a computer, phone, watch, camera, etc) and then the transistors designed are then implemented in the physical system(computer, phone, watch, camera, etc) using transistors.
Now at the core, Quantum Computers work in a somewhat similar way to normal/classical computers. but instead of using binary (0s and 1s) as normal computers do, they make use of something called Qubits, Qubits are just like bits(these are 0s and 1s) are for normal computers.
I'm going to explain Quibits using an analogy, normal computer's bits(0s and 1s) are like a coin with 2 faces with 0 being one face(maybe heads) and 1 being another face(maybe tails), now when a computer processes data imagine the coming being tossed and it can land on either heads(0) or tails(1) and that is how in non-esoteric terms how classical computers work.
Now for quantum computers, imagine instead of having 0s (heads) and 1s(tails) the Qubit is both a 0 and 1 at the same time (weird? I know😅), So where a normal computer has 2 bits (0s and 1s) a quantum computer has one bit which can do the job of both 0s and 1s because it can be both of them at the same time.
Remember our earlier definition of quantum computers where I said quantum computers are computers which process data by manipulating quantum particles using concepts from quantum physics.
Now quantum computers can be both 0s and 1s at the same time due to a concept in quantum physics called superposition, this is a notion that tiny objects can exist in multiple places or states simultaneously. This might be a bit complex or at most scary but it explains how a qubit can be both a 0 and 1 at the same time.
Going back to our earlier coin analogy, where a classical computer's bits are like a coin with 2 faces, each representing one bit(0 and 1). A quantum computer is like a coin that is spinning. It is both faces of the coin (0 and 1) at the same time.
Now quantum computers are not made up of monitors, keyboards, etc so it doesn't process data the way a normal computer does but rather it works like this - a problem is given to a quantum computer and then the same way normal computers design logic gates to process data the quantum computer designs logic gates suited to the problem and then it implements qubits which are then used to solve the problem.
To know more about Quantum Logic gates, read this article
Challenges facing Quantum Computers
photo credits: IBM
For quantum computers or computation of any sort to succeed, algorithms are needed.
Algorithms are simply a set of rules which are followed for something to be achieved.
Quantum computers are slated to be faster at solving real-life problems than supercomputers ever will be, but for them to solve these said problems they need algorithms and these currently are in short supply because of how complex quantum computers are.
But slowly we are getting there, research is going on for algorithms that can be optimized on quantum computers.
Stabilizing and Scaling
For quantum computers to achieve their goals efficiently you need a lot of qubits.
But for qubits to work efficiently you need them to be in a constant superposition state but freezing them in this state requires a lot of resources and therefore it is extremely resource-intensive, now imagine, for you to solve a large computing-intensive task which quantum computers are optimized for have to build and maintain thousands of qubits.
Fortunately, research on stabilizing qubits(quantum bits ) is progressing, to know about the current state of this research, read this article.
For quantum computers to go mainstream i.e for quantum computers to achieve the large goals which it is being slated to solve like efficient weather forecasting, space exploration, atomic particle modelling, data simulation etc people have to build algorithms for it.
For people to build algorithms for quantum computers then people have to understand how quantum computers work but the thing is quantum computers are built on quantum mechanical concepts and understanding quantum mechanical concepts isn't exactly like reciting your ABCs.
Fortunately, people are becoming more aware of quantum computers so gradually it is expected that information and tutorials on quantum computers will go mainstream.
Companies Involved in Quantum Computing
Atom Computing is a quantum computing hardware company specializing in neutral atom quantum computers. While it is currently prototyping its first offerings, Atom Computing said it will provide cloud access "to large numbers of very coherent qubits by optically trapping and addressing individual atoms," said Ben Bloom, founder and CEO.
The company also builds and creates "complicated hardware control systems for use in the academic community,'' Bloom said.
Xanadu is a Canadian quantum technology company with the mission to build quantum computers that are useful and available to people everywhere. Founded in 2016, Xanadu is building toward a universal quantum computer using silicon photonic hardware, according to Sepehr Taghavi, corporate development manager.
The company also provides users access to near-term quantum devices through its Xanadu Quantum Cloud (XQC) service. The company also leads the development of PennyLane, an open-source software library for quantum machine learning and application development, Taghavi said.
In 2016, IBM was the first company to put a quantum computer on the cloud. The company has since built up an active community of more than 260,000 registered users, who run more than one billion every day on real hardware and simulators.
In 2017, IBM was the first company to offer universal quantum computing systems via the IBM Q Network. The network now includes more than 125 organizations, including Fortune 500s, startups, research labs, and education institutions. Partners include Daimler AG, JPMorgan Chase, and ExxonMobil. All use IBM's most advanced quantum computers to simulate new materials for batteries, model portfolios and financial risk, and simulate chemistry for new energy technologies, the company said.
By 2023, IBM scientists will deliver a quantum computer with a 1,121-qubit processor, inside a 10-foot tall "super-fridge" that will be online and capable of delivering a Quantum Advantage -- the point where certain information processing tasks can be performed more efficiently or cost-effectively on a quantum computer, versus a classical one, according to the company.
ColdQuanta commercializes quantum atomics, which it said is "the next wave of the information age." The company's Quantum Core technology is based on ultra-cold atoms cooled to a temperature of nearly absolute zero; lasers manipulate and control the atoms with extreme precision.
The company manufactures components, instruments, and turnkey systems that address a broad spectrum of applications: quantum computing, timekeeping, navigation, radiofrequency sensors, and quantum communications. It also develops interface software.
ColdQuanta's global customers include major commercial and defence companies; all branches of the US Department of Defense; national labs operated by the Department of Energy; NASA; NIST; and major universities, the company said.
In April 2020, ColdQuanta was selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a scalable, cold-atom-based quantum computing hardware and software platform that can demonstrate quantum advantage on real-world problems.
Zapata Computing empowers enterprise teams to accelerate quantum solutions and capabilities. It introduced Orquestra, an end-to-end, workflow-based toolset for quantum computing. In addition to previously available backends that include a full range of simulators and classical resources, Orquestra now integrates with Qiskit and IBM Quantum's open quantum systems, Honeywell's System Model HØ, and Amazon Braket, the company said.
The Orquestra workflow platform provides access to Honeywell's HØ, and was designed to enable teams to compose, run, and analyze complex, quantum-enabled workflows and challenging computational solutions at scale, Zapata said. Orquestra is purpose-built for quantum machine learning, optimization, and simulation problems across industries.
Recently introduced Azure Quantum provides a "one-stop-shop" to create a path to scalable quantum computing, Microsoft said. It is available in preview to select customers and partners through Azure.
For developers, Azure Quantum offers:
An open ecosystem that enables access to diverse quantum software, hardware, and offerings from Microsoft and it partners: 1QBit, Honeywell, IonQ, and QCI.
A scalable, and secure platform that will continue to adapt to our rapidly evolving quantum future.
An ability to have a quantum impact today with pre-built applications that run on classical computers -- which Microsoft refers to as "quantum-inspired solutions."
Founded in 1999, D-Wave claims to be the first company to sell a commercial quantum computer, in 2011, and the first to give developers real-time cloud access to quantum processors with Leap, its quantum cloud service.
D-Wave's approach to quantum computing, known as quantum annealing, is best suited to optimization tasks in fields such as AI, logistics, cybersecurity, financial modelling, fault detection, materials sciences, and more. More than 250 early quantum applications have been built to date using D-Wave's technology, the company said. The company has seen a lot of momentum in 2020. In February, D-Wave announced the launch of Leap 2, which introduced new tools and features designed to make it easier for developers to build bigger applications. In July, the company expanded access to Leap to India and Australia. In March, D-Wave opened free access to Leap for researchers working on responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, the company launched Advantage, a quantum system designed for business. Advantage has more than 5,000 qubits, 15-way qubit connectivity, and an expanded hybrid solver service to run problems with up to one million variables, D-Wave said. The advantage is accessible through Leap.
Strangeworks, a startup based in Austin, Texas, claims to be lowering the barrier to entry into quantum computing by providing tools for development on all quantum hardware and software platforms. Strangeworks launched in March 2018, and one year later, deployed a beta version of its software platform to users from more than 140 different organizations. Strangeworks will open its initial offering of the platform in Q1 2021, and the enterprise edition is coming in late 2021, according to Steve Gibson, chief strategy officer.
The Strangeworks Quantum Computing platform provides tools to access and program quantum computing devices. The Strangeworks IDE is platform-agnostic, and integrates all hardware, software frameworks, and supporting languages, the company said. To facilitate this goal, Strangeworks manages assembly, integrations, and product updates. Users can share their work privately with collaborators, or publicly. Users' work belongs to them and open sourcing is not required to utilize the Strangeworks platform.
Quantum Computing is still a relatively young field open for innovation and new ideas.
It's also pretty fascinating once you understand the definition of most of its core concepts like superposition, entanglement etc.
Quantum computers are still a relatively theoretical field as it hasn't yet started achieving all which it's slated to achieve but it is going to be the future of computing, when is the question.
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