Weekly Brief: I Quant To Break Free

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Google and NASA have just announced that they have achieved Quantum Supremacy! Hooray! But, errr… what on earth are they talking about?

Simply put, this is the ability of devices to solve complex problems that classical computers can’t solve in a realistic timeframe. Google’s quantum computer solved a problem in 200 seconds that would have taken a classical supercomputer 10,000 years to solve! The problem it solved was pretty unimportant and meaningless, sure, but Google’s achievement hints at the enormous potential of quantum computing. As it develops, we will hopefully see it applied in all industries across the globe! It will… excuse the pun… achieve global supremacy. 

In the nearish term, quantum computing can be applied to everything from cryptography to chemistry, communication to optimisation, and tons more. Looking at cryptography as an example, we note cybersecurity depends on computers multiplying large prime numbers. Traditional computers therefore struggle to crack encryptions because this requires reversing the multiplication process and finding the original primes (which takes ages). Quantum computers can do this exponentially faster. This could help security services around the world crack codes and develop better, quasi-impenetrable quantum-secure cybersecurity systems! The flipside of this, of course, is that dissident groups could use quantum computing to hack systems globally before they’re upgraded (yikes). Meanwhile in a separate vein (pardon the pun), quantum computing could also revolutionise healthcare. It could allow us to understand the nature of all matter – which means better medicine with fewer side effects, to faster and better diagnostics. Forget a life expectancy of 81 (current UK life expectancy) – how about 110?

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Unlike conventional computers, whose work is based on the smallest possible unit of information – the beat, quantum computers deal with qubits. A bit can only have one value from two at a time – either 1 or 0. A qubit can also denote 1 and 0, but at the same time it can also be simultaneously in both values, both in 1 and 0. This property qubits allows quantum computers to work much more efficiently than conventional ones.