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“We’re really just, I would say, six months out from having quantum computers that will outperform classical computers in some capacity”. — Joseph Emerson, Quantum Benchmark CEO

There are very few people who would say that their life hasn’t been changed by the computers. But, there are certain tasks that even a computer isn’t capable of solving efficiently and that’s where Quantum Computers come into the picture. They are incredibly powerful machines that process information at a subatomic level.

Quantum Computing leverages the logic and principles of Quantum Mechanics. Quantum computers operate one million times faster than any other device that you’re currently using. They are a whole different breed of machines that promise to revolutionize computing.

How Quantum computers differ from traditional computers?

To start with, let’s look at how these computers look like. Unlike your mobile or desktop computing devices, Quantum Computers will never be able to fit in your pocket and you cannot station these at desks. At least, for the next few years. Also, these are fragile computers that look like vacuum cells or tubes with a bunch of lasers shining into them, and the whole apparatus must be kept in temperatures near to absolute zero at all times.

IBM Research

Secondly, we look at the underlying mechanics of how they each compute. Quantum Computing is different from classic digital computing in the sense that classical computing requires data to be encoded into binary digits (bits), each of which is always present in one of the two definite states (0 or 1). Whereas, in Quantum Computing, data units called Quantum bits or qubits can be present in more than one state at a time, called, “superpositions” of states. Two particles can also exhibit “entanglement,” where changing of one state may instantaneously affect the other.

Thirdly, let’s look at what make up these machines i.e., their hardware and software components. A regular computer’s hardware includes components such as a CPU, monitor, and routers for communicating across the computer network. The software includes systems programs and different protocols that run on top of the seven layers namely physical layer, a data-link layer, network layer, transport layer, session layer, presentation layer and the application layer.

Now, Quantum computer also consists of hardware and software components. There are Ion traps, semiconductors, vacuum cells, Josephson junction and wire loops on the hardware side. The software and protocol that lies within a Quantum Computer are divided into five different layers namely physical layer, virtual, Quantum Error Correction ( QEC) layer, logical layer, and application layer.

Layered Quantum Computer architecture

Layered Quantum Computer architecture

Quantum Computing: A rapidly growing field

Quantum Computing is special and is advancing on a large scale. According to a new market research report by marketsandmarkets, the Quantum Computing Market will be worth 495.3 Million USD by 2023.

Also, as per ABI research, total revenue generated from quantum computing services will exceed $15 billion by 2028.

Also, Matthew Brisse, research VP at Gartner states, “Quantum computing is heavily hyped and evolving at different rates, but it should not be ignored”.

Now, there isn’t any certainty from the Quantum Computing world about when it will make the shift from scientific discoveries to applications for the average user, but, there are different areas, like pharmaceuticals, Machine Learning, Security, etc, that are leveraging the potential of Quantum Computing.

Apart from these industries, even countries are getting their feet dirty in the field of Quantum Computing, lately, by joining the “Quantum arms race” ( the race for excelling in Quantum Technology).

How is the tech industry driving Quantum Computing forward?

Both big tech giants like IBM, Google, Microsoft and startups like Rigetti, D-wave and Quantum Benchmark are slowly, but steadily, bringing the Quantum Computing Era a step closer to us.

Big Tech’s big bets on Quantum computing

IBM established a landmark in the quantum computing world back in November 2017 when it announced its first powerful quantum computer that can handle 50 qubits. The company is also working on making its 20-qubit system available through its cloud computing platform. It is collaborating with startups such as Quantum Benchmark, Zapata Computing, 1Qbit, etc to further accelerate Quantum Computing.

Google also announced Bristlecone, the largest 72 qubit quantum computer, earlier this year, which promises to provide a testbed for research into scalability and error rates of qubit technology. Google along with IBM plans to commercialize its quantum computing technologies in the next few years.

Microsoft is also working on Quantum Computing with plans to build a topological quantum computer. This is an effort to bring a practical quantum computer quicker for commercial use. It also introduced a language called Q#  ( Q Sharp ), last year, along with tools to help coders develop software for quantum computers

“We want to solve today’s unsolvable problems and we have an opportunity with a unique, differentiated technology to do that,” mentioned Todd HolmDahl, Corporate VP of Microsoft Quantum.

Startups leading the quantum computing revolution – Quantum Valley, anyone?

Apart from these major tech giants, startups are also stepping up their Quantum Computing game.

D-Wave Systems Inc., a Canadian company, was the first one to sell a quantum computer named D-wave one, back in 2011, even though the usefulness of this computer is limited.  These quantum computers are based on adiabatic quantum computation and have been sold to government agencies, aerospace, and cybersecurity vendors.

Earlier this year, D-Wave Systems announced that it has completed testing a working prototype of its next-generation processor, as well as the installation of a D-Wave 2000Q system for a customer.

Another startup worth mentioning is San Francisco based Rigetti computing, which is racing against Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel to build Quantum Computing projects.

Rigetti has raised nearly $70 million for development of quantum computers. According to Chad Rigetti, CEO at Rigetti, “This is going to be a very large industry—every major organization in the world will have to have a strategy for how to use this technology”.

Lastly, Quantum Benchmark, another Canadian startup, is collaborating with Google to support the development of quantum computing. Quantum Benchmark’s True-Q technology has been integrated with Cirq, Google’s latest open-source quantum computing framework.

Looking at the efforts these companies are putting in to boost the growth of Quantum computing, it’s hard to say who will win the quantum race. But one thing is clear, just as Silicon Valley drove product innovation and software adoption during the early days of computing, having many businesses work together and compete with each other, may not be a bad idea for quantum computing.

How are countries preparing for the Quantum arms race?

Though Quantum Computing hasn’t yet made its way to the consumer market, it’s remarkable progress in research and it’s infinite potential have now caught the attention of nations worldwide. China, the U.S and other great powers, are now joining the Quantum arms race.

But, why are these governments so serious about investing in the research and development of Quantum Computing? The answer is simple: Quantum computing will be a huge competitive advantage to the government that finds breakthroughs with their Quantum technology-based innovation as it will be able to cripple militaries, topples the global economy as well as yields spectacular and quick solutions to complex problems. It further has the power to revolutionize everything in today’s world from cellular communications and navigations to sensors and imaging.

China continues to leap ahead in the quantum race

China has been consistently investing billions of dollars in the field of Quantum Computing. From building its first form of Quantum Computer, back in 2017, to coming out with world’s first unhackable “quantum satellite” in 2016, China is a clearly killing it when it comes to Quantum Computing.

Last year, the Chinese government has also funded $10 billion for the construction of the world’s biggest quantum research facility planned to open in 2020. The country plans to develop quantum computers and performs quantum metrology to support the military and national defense efforts.

The U.S is pushing hard to win the race

Americans are also trying to top up their game and win the Quantum arms race. For instance, the Pentagon is working on applying quantum computing in the future to the U.S. military. They plan to establish highly secure and encrypted communications for satellites along with ensuring accurate navigation that does not need GPS signals. In fact, Congress has proposed $800 million funding to Pentagon’s quantum projects for the next five years.

Similarly, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is interested in exploring Quantum Computing to improve the general computing performance as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. Other than that, the U.S. government spends about $200 million per year on quantum research.

The UK is stepping up its game

The United Kingdom is also not far behind in the Quantum arms race. It has a $400 million program underway for quantum-based sensing and timing. European Union is also planning to invest worth $1 billion spread over 10 years for projects involving scientific research and development of devices for sensing, communication, simulation, and computing.

Other great powers such as Canada, Australia, and Israel are also acquainting themselves with the exciting world of Quantum Computing. These governments are confident that whoever makes it first, gets an upper hand for life.

The Quantum Computing revolution has begun

Quantum Computing has the power to lead revolutionary breakthroughs even though, Quantum computers that can outperform regular computers are not there yet. Also, this is quite a complex technology which a lot of people find hard to understand as the rules of the quantum world different drastically from those of the physical world.

While all progress made is constrained to research labs at the moment, it has a lot of potentials, given the intense development, and investments that are going into Quantum Computing from governments and large corporations across the globe. It’s likely that we’ll be able to see the working prototypes of Quantum computers emerge soon.

With the Quantum revolution here, the possibilities that lie ahead are limitless. Perhaps we could crack the big bang theory finally!? Or maybe quantum computing powered by AI will just speed up the arrival of singularity.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.


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