There's been a lot of industry buzz lately around quantum and it seems to be progressing at almost immeasurable speeds. While these are exciting times for advancements in this technology, there is still a long way to go before we’ll be able to witness a quantum computer fully optimizing its capabilities.
What is Quantum Computing? The Short Version
Modern computers use binary digits or bits to calculate and determine solutions. A bit has a value of either a one or zero; representing either a true/false, on/off, yes/no, or +/- scenario. The bit has a defined measurable state. This form of computation works great when there are clear decisions, clear calculations, or clear answers to problems.
In certain computing situations where physics, chemistry, or biology is involved, there are uncertain or no clear defined answers. This mixture of these uncertain sciences is referred to as the field of quantum mechanics.
Instead of bits, a quantum computer uses quantum bits or qubits. Rather than being just a one or zero, a qubit can be a one, a zero or some unknown state all at the same time. This occurrence is called, “quantum superposition.” Many explain the difference in relation to a coin. If you flip a coin, when it lands, it's either heads or tails like a bit. If you spin a coin it has a chance of being a head or tail, but while its spinning its similar to a “superposition” state.
A great way to understand the difference between computing and quantum computing is to use the analogy of solving a maze. If a computer would be tasked with solving a maze it would simply try each and every branch and turn, switching bits between left turns and right turns, eliminating options sequentially until it finds a result. The faster the computer, the faster a result would be found.
If a quantum computer were tasked with solving a maze, it would explore all paths of the maze at one time keeping turns / qubits in the superposition state, analyzing all of the data, and solving the maze in one try. In the maze analogy, it may not seem like a significant time savings over a standard computer.
However, the larger the maze gets or the larger the problem, the easier it is to understand the benefit of a quantum computer. The ability to solve massive chemistry problems in the medical or energy industries in unique ways at super-fast speeds is game changing. Other highly complicated systems such as weather forecasting, financial market predictions, or cryptography are also potential applications.
Quantum Today and Tomorrow
Major players in the quantum computing arena appear to be making progress. Both Google and IBM claim to have working 50 qubit quantum computers. Although that is a great achievement, the computers most likely are experiencing very high error rates and are somewhat unpredictable.
Technical implementation challenges unique to high data processing speeds and the related power required in quantum computing include electrical interference, heat displacement, and high data rate communication via photonics. These challenges will need to be addressed as this market grows. For quantum computers to operate, the qubits must remain in a stable state, and to be stable means to be very cold. How cold? Try absolute zero or -460 degrees Fahrenheit, which can possibly be achieved with the use of liquid helium in a closed cycle system.
With the challenges of interference and thermal management, among others, quantum computing solutions may at first be limited to remote access or a hybrid configuration, where some amount of qubits will be combined with a super computing solution for experimental quantum applications.
Quantum Information Science (QIS) News
One of the significant events that occurred recently was the implementation of the National Quantum Initiative Act, which the President of the United States of America signed into law, Dec. 21, 2018. The purpose of the Act, as stated in the document, is "To provide for a coordinated Federal program to accelerate quantum research and development for the economic and national security of the United States".
There are a number of provisions and directives of the Act, but one of particular interest instructs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to convene a "consortium" of stakeholders to discuss the measurement, standards, and cyber security needs of the emerging Quantum Information Science (QIS) industry. Which has resulted in the forming of the QED-C.
What is QED-C?
The Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) is a consortium of participants focused on enablement and growth of the U.S. quantum industry in computing, communications, and sensing. A diverse set of companies and academic participants are working together to identify challenges in technology, standards, and the workforce, and to address those gaps through collaboration. This is an exciting consortium of great U.S.-based organizations advancing quantum science.
Why did Benchmark join?
Benchmark has significant expertise in the technologies needed to advance quantum computing. Thermal management, photonics, high speed circuit design, and control electronics are key engineering and manufacturing capabilities within Benchmark’s design and product development services. The benefits and potential of quantum computing are tremendous, and Benchmark has invested in advancing our technologies to help support our customers’ next generation solutions, the consortium, and the computing industry.
Quantum computing has many challenges to still overcome and is likely many years away from widespread commercial implementation. Although the development uncertainty is unmistakable, the reality is quantum computing could change the world as we know it today.