Surprise! We are on the cusp of yet another powerful new technological revolution. Google’s AI Quantum team of researchers led by Charles Neill, Pedram Roushan, Anthony Megrant and head John Martinis have created a chip that has performed in under three minutes a computational task that they say would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete — IBM contends this time is 60 hours! All the same, that opens a mindboggling array of life-changing possibilities.
Quantum mechanics is certainly one of the most profound scientific ideas around. It is based on the property of particle/wave duality at the subatomic level. First proposed in the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s cat, this means that an object exists in different locations at the same time. The scientific term for this is called superposition and harnessing it speeds up calculations exponentially. So promising is its potential that, starting with the IBM in 1990, 73 companies are currently invested in building quantum computers.
Key to the quantum computer is the qubit, the individual unit of quantum memory. Unlike a bit which is a small electric current the absence or presence of which determines, respectively, the two states of zero and one, a qubit can simultaneously exist in a superposition of zero and one with its identity along a spectrum.
How to harness this “quantum uncertainty”? First of all, it could be used by banks to defeat hackers by creating fluid private keys to encrypt messages. Second, it can transform healthcare by enabling accurate simulations of drug molecules and leading to treatments of hitherto-incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s. There can be many more such exciting applications. Innovation is alive, so take heart!