A while back now we posted about 5G technology as part of our efforts to develop educational content here on the site. This post about quantum computing technology and some of the ways in which we can anticipate it being implemented is in the same vein; quantum computing has been increasingly touted as another sort of “miracle” technology about which we hear a great deal of hype, but without a lot of insight into the details. This post will hopefully rectify that a little.
To understand quantum computing and the fervor surrounding it, we first need to talk about a recent reality: the death of Moore’s Law. Yes, Moore’s Law is dead, long live quantum computing. In fact, it died back in 2018, by most estimates. Back in the early days of the silicon chip, Moore proposed a law that the number of gates that could be fit onto a chip of a given size would double every eighteen months. That doubling, which in effect was a doubling of computing potential per unit area, drove the computer evolution and revolution of the past few decades, so that we carry around in our pockets computers that can do things that entire rooms full of computers couldn’t do not terribly long ago. That doubling is also something on which we can no longer rely. With today’s technology we can place gates so close together that they now experience random electron jumps, which renders them useless for computation.
Scientists and engineers knew that this would happen eventually, which is why investment and research in quantum computing has increased as a way to continue increasing our computing capabilities after we reached the limit of our current methods. Unfortunately, it’s called quantum computing, which is the modern day equivalent of saying “it’s a magical talisman made by the druids.” Though it is touted as the future of computing, few people really understand what quantum computing is. This is understandable, because quantum physics is genuinely confusing. It has been expressed that “when you think you understand quantum physics you are farthest from doing so, and when you think it makes no sense and can’t possibly be real you might be getting somewhere.”
Fortunately, understanding what makes quantum computing so powerful does not require a detailed understand of the underlying quantum principles. Instead, I want you to envision that the problem you want your computer to solve is a vast maze. A traditional computer will methodically test each possible path through the maze one and a time until it reaches the one that leads through to the solution. Depending on the number of possible paths, this can take a very long time (to learn more, look up the Traveling Salesman problem). A quantum computer, on the other hand, is able to explore multiple possible routes through the maze simultaneously, again until it finds the correct one. In the simplest terms, this is what makes quantum computing so powerful.
Scientists and engineers have made immense progress on building practical quantum computers in the past few years, but don’t expect your next laptop to have quantum processing. Indeed, I suspect that the companies developing this technology will use it as an excuse to launch a paradigm shift in how we interact with our devices, aided by improvements in communications capabilities. Rather than building personal or even business quantum computers, I predict companies will instead offer quantum computing as a service (QCAAS).
Once upon a time, when you went out and bought a new computer, you would purchase with it whatever software you might need. That software would be yours, and it would be on your machine, and thus would it always be. That began to change, and now the vast majority of software is instead SAAS (software as a service). Rather than buying your Microsoft suite once, you now pay a subscription fee, and this is how most software is now done. Cloud computing as furthered this concept, with entire operating systems and desktops and other computing technologies offered “as a service:” on demand, remotely, as a subscription or by use.
You may be familiar with how researchers will rent time on supercomputers to conduct their more intense calculations. This is a small-scale example of the same concept as QCAAS. Under QCAAS, your device would have minimal computing power. It would be a shell, existing purely for a display and an interface and communications capability to a distant quantum computer. Minimal data storage, minimal memory, minimal processing power. You will use this device instead like a terminal to access a quantum computer of immense capacity, along with thousands of other people. All of your information, your processing, your computing power, will come from and be stored on that distant machine.
This is already the way the market is going, thanks to the power of cloud computing. Quantum computers will be the impetus that completes the transition to a full computing as a service paradigm.