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Updated by Charles Bystock on 05/11/2020

Quantum computing is (almost) here. In October, Google’s quantum computing lab took just minutes to solve a math problem that would have taken 10 millennia for a supercomputer. Or, at least that’s what they reported. In rebuttal, IBM publicly registered their skepticism.

Wired says companies are pouring billions into winning the quantum computer arms race that seems to be springing up between Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and a few start-ups bent on out-computing each other. But quantum computing is even younger than infancy — it’s at the zygote stage, even though it’s been a theory for decades. Scientists still don’t really know what they’re getting into, or how they can turn the theory into marketable products.

What is quantum computing? When combined with some of the other computer sciences, like machine learning, could this new IT offshoot change interactions with our digital devices and leapfrog humans into further innovation?

Understanding quantum computing

Quantum computing is a new way for our computers to process data faster than currently possible. It’s based on the fundamental principles defining the existence of matter and subatomic particle energy (i.e., quantum mechanics) and many theorize that it will revolutionize computing power.

Currently, binary numbers power the devices we use. Tomorrow, subatomic particles, known as quantum bits or qubits, will perform complex operations with supersonic rapidity. The theory says that when quantum computing takes off, our current binary code will be like a square wheel — clunky, inefficient, and very slow. That’s because every additional qubit doubles the computing power of a quantum machine.

It’s not as if quantum computing hasn’t been around; we’ve known it’s potential for decades. But so far, we’ve not been able to replicate qubits in sufficient quantities to make them actionable. It may take another decade or longer before this happens.

The positive implications of quantum computing could be enormous; one peer-reviewed paper suggests quantum computing could help identify cancer cells and then direct the radiation treatment to destroy the cells “with extreme precision and spares all surrounding tissue.”

Of course, this is all still theory. But if we can pull quantum computing off, it could be used to increase the speed in which machines “learn,” perhaps bringing us one step closer to true artificial intelligence.

How can quantum computing boost machine learning?

Simply put, for our machines to solve previously unsolvable problems, faster computer cycles will be needed to process sophisticated machine learning algorithms. The boost in processing speeds could someday create true artificial intelligence, where a computer will solve problems and tasks in a way indistinguishable from humankind.

Machine learning is a branch of the computer sciences designed to quickly parse through big data while using predictive analysis to create responses to human queries. One benefit of quantum science is that this new method of computing allows for better data classifications. Machine learning algorithms become “smarter” or at least more accurate in their decision-making based on the data you’re feeding it. Quantum computing will allow machine learning algorithms to identify data patterns that are currently invisible to traditional computers.

Just imagine the world’s fastest computer combined with self-learning algorithms — the implications for research, healthcare, aerospace, economics, and other areas with currently untenable problems are staggering. SingularityHub suggests quantum computers are very good at simulating nature. There are implications for climate change and drug research, as well as materials science and information transfer. But the truth is, we don’t know exactly what these machines will eventually do because we’re not sure we are even asking the right questions.

The future state of quantum

The future is being invented now. Quantum computing represents the next step toward true AI — a thinking, decision-making, and possibly sentient computer that makes decisions mirroring human thought, albeit faster and more intelligent. This idea is galvanizing to start-ups, giant tech firms, universities, and even governments, which are investing tremendously in quantum computers. The Economist says twenty countries have invested at least $10 million so far. When you tack on the dozens of start-ups, the total jumps into the billions and it’s still growing.

Yet, despite the investment, the largest quantum computer is Google’s 72-qubit chip called Bristlecone. Obviously, managing qubits is a huge engineering feat, and companies like IBM are leading the way in developing the controlled environments that make qubit development possible. Quantum computers are very sensitive to noise and environmental factors, which can make them waver and disappear.

Contact us today to find out more about integrating the future state of computing into your business.