Computers rule the world. They run almost everything there is on the planet. From simple home appliances, entertainment showcases, smartphones and machinery in big industries, there is indeed a computing system in place that makes it work all the time. We are no longer new to technology since it is all around us now but there are newer technological innovations that an ordinary person isn’t yet ready for or one may find it hard to believe even exists.
Quantum computing is the stuff of legends. Computer programmers started coding in mediums of 1s and 0s since the birth of computers. Meanwhile, quantum computing offers computing speeds of up to hundreds of millions faster than most conventional computers these days and no longer limited to coding binary numbers. Unfortunately, this highly advanced computing technology also calls for a different breed of computer programmers knowing how baffling the technology itself is even to experts in the field.
Quantum computers finally seem to be coming of age with promises of “quantum supremacy” by the end of the year. But there’s a problem—very few people know how to work them.
The bold claim of achieving “quantum supremacy” came on the back of Google unveiling a new quantum chip design. The hyperbolic phrase essentially means building a quantum device that can perform a calculation impossible for any conventional computer.
In theory, quantum computers can crush conventional ones at important tasks like factoring large numbers. That’s because unlike normal computers, whose bits can either be represented as 0 or 1, a quantum bit—or “qubit”—can be simultaneously 0 and 1 thanks to a phenomenon known as superposition.
Big companies like Google make a bold promise of introducing the first ever commercial service from a “universal” quantum computer this year after unveiling their new quantum chip design. Those are such big words, indeed, considering that the company lacks the programmers who can code at a quantum level. Even IBM intends on bringing the quantum technology to the cloud for free sooner rather than later. For computer programmers to be able to handle quantum technology with ease, they must first have a good grasp of quantum physics at the very least. It’s not something that they usually do when coding for conventional computers.
There are a number of quantum simulators available now that will help users get familiar with quantum computing, but it’s not the real thing and is likely to behave very differently. MIT physicist, Isaac Chuang, said, “The real challenge is whether you can make your algorithm work on real hardware that has imperfections.” It will take time for any computer programmer to learn the skills needed for quantum computing, but until the systems have been developed, what will they learn on?
This is one of the reasons for the push in making quantum devices more accessible. D-wave made available their Qbsoly and Qmasm tools earlier this year in an attempt to get more people into the realms of quantum computing. If the tools are available, more people will be tempted to have a go and budding quantum computer scientists will be born. And as Google’s researchers wrote in a statement, “If early quantum-computing devices can offer even a modest increase in computing speed or power, early adopters will reap the rewards.”
While the obvious difference between a classic computer and a quantum one is that the former are binary while the latter work with “qubits”. All qubits of a quantum computer would often be in a “superposition of states” where all qubits of information can be in all potential combination of states at the same time for quantum computers to actually work. The quantum computer must be shielded from the external environment or else it ceases to function at all.
Coding at this level means to execute appropriate algorithms that should always be reversible. Unfortunately, not all coders code this way, and again, they should be knowledgeable enough in the field of quantum physics to be able to program quantum computers efficiently. Only then can quantum computing really be widely used when there are computer programmers who can handle what it takes to code at a quantum level.