Quantum leap for computer power

The Spark

5th January 2018

One technological advancement likely to receive quite a bit of attention in 2018 is quantum computing. Once the preserve of science fiction, tech giants including Google, IBM and Microsoft are investing heavily in making it a reality.

Put (very) simply, traditional computers use ‘bits’ in the form of ones and zeroes as basic inputs and outputs, while quantum computing ‘qubits’ allow for both a one and a zero to be used simultaneously – giving it potential processing power millions of times faster than anything currently available.

Forrester Research analyst Brian Hopkins, who has written a report on quantum computing, has identified some of its possible practical applications – including more powerful security systems, sophisticated robots and the discovery of new molecules.

But this is all just theory, and the examples we’ve seen so far are little more than experiments. A significant challenge will be demonstrating ‘quantum supremacy’ – that quantum computers can perform tasks that no current computer can – and the first company to do so will steal a march on competitors.

Google revealed its strategy in 2017, and was followed by an announcement from IBM. However, both companies’ breakthrough machines are likely to be significantly less powerful than the devices quantum computing could eventually bring, and most experts believe we’re still some way off seeing tangible benefits.

What’s more, quantum computing will require a completely new field of computer science – with new hardware and software – to properly take advantage. Microsoft has introduced a new quantum computing programming language to help, but it’s such a complicated area that even its pioneer Albert Einstein struggled, arguing its mysteries for decades with another great scientist, Niels Bohr.

Regardless, we should see some successful use cases this year and no doubt more announcements from influential companies. Quantum computing remains a fascinating field and one that’s sure to be a topic of conversation throughout 2018.