Getting Ready for Quantum Computing — basics edition


Business Reinvention


5 min read
Robot hand touching a holographic globe with orbits around it. The area being touched is in a different colour.

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
Richard P. Feynman

Quantum mechanics is the foundation of physics, which underlies chemistry, which is the foundation of biology –> nature. Scientists who want to simulate nature, biology, and chemistry need a better way of making calculations that can handle uncertainty. Quantum computing will impact our ability to solve problems that are hard to address by traditional supercomputers. Instead of bits, quantum computers consist of qubits. Quantum mechanics allow qubits to code more information than bits. And without quantum mechanics, the matter would not exist.

Count every molecule

Quantum Computers are particularly good at calculating the properties of systems based on quantum mechanics. It includes molecules. Caffeine is a small molecule. It contains protons, neutrons, and electrons. The number of bits required for the molecule and bonds that hold it all together is approximately 1⁰⁴⁸ (in case you do not know how big such a number is, here it is: 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000). Just one molecule!

☕ Cup of coffee contains approximately 95 mg of caffeine — which means 2.95 × 1⁰²⁰ molecules (295000000000000000000 molecules).

Smell your coffee before drinking and reflect that nature handles the single caffeine molecule effectively, almost without visible effort. A quantum computer with 160 qubits could make such a calculation.

“With quantum computing, we really don’t know what we’re going to be able to solve. The answer is going to surprise us.”

Peter Shor

Solve 4 main problems

You might be wondering how quantum mechanics is even relevant to businesses today. Quantum computing may provide a new path to solving some of the hardest or most memory-intensive problems in business and science. There are 4 categories of problems quantum computers can solve much better than classical computers:

Encryption and Cybersecurity — Our digital lives rely on cryptography. Current encryption algorithms, like RSA, can be broken if one can figure out the two prime factors of a number with hundreds of digits. Classical computers would need an enormous amount of time to solve them. The algorithm on a quantum computer could quickly calculate the prime numbers used in current encryption schemes. Currently, quantum computers are too small and error-prone to accomplish this. But it is only a matter of time.

Chemistry&Biology Research — Quantum computers could replicate chemical systems to give us new insights into molecules and reactions by simulating how the electrons in the atoms that make up molecules interact with each other. Designing new fertilizers is critical in food production. Scientists hope quantum computers will give them a better understanding of this process in the near future and find more energy-efficient ways to make fertilizer.

Optimization Problems (e.g., logistics) rather than billions of trillions of individual operations, quantum computing can reduce the most challenging optimization problems down to several functions where even a classical computer could find the optimal answer quickly.

Data Analysis — finding patterns is more challenging as the datasets get larger — and they are getting huge in many scientific fields. Quantum computers offer a fundamentally different and faster way to explore these large datasets and could help solve this important type of problem.

Progress in quantum computing is happening fast. There is excellent progress in developing algorithms that quantum computers may use. But the devices themselves still need a lot more work.

Usain Bolt of computers

In October 2019, Google’s Californian research lab became the first to achieve “quantum supremacy,” performing a calculation that would be practically impossible for even the most potent classical supercomputer. The University of Science and Technology of China achieved quantum supremacy only 14 months later, claiming its quantum computer to be 10 billion times faster than Google’s. IBM hopes to have a 1,000-qubit machine by 2023.

The history of quantum computers started in 1935 with EPR Paradox … but everyone can start learning about quantum computers & quantum physics (and what #qubits are) from comics: “The Talk” by Scott Aaronson & Zach Weinersmith. Learning about complex topics in an engaging way is essential (especially during a pandemic).

In case comics are not for you, there is one book that explains quantum computing without unnecessary complex terms and advanced math: “Q is for Quantum” by Terry Rudolph.

Part of the trouble with quantum computing is that it involves new weird terms and unknown concepts. The author of that book found a way to explain basic concepts of quantum mechanics in a way it could be understandable for everyone. He presumed readers only to know basic arithmetic. If you would like to try if that book is for you — the free first chapter can be downloaded from:

Learn from the masters

After some theory, there is time to start practicing. It looks like a good time for developers and other IT specialists to explore quantum computing. Let’s start with 3 programming languages where you can design and execute quantum circuits:

  1. Microsoft Q# & Quantum Development Kit —
  2. IBM Qiskit — open-source quantum development kit
  3. Google Cirq — Python library for programming quantum computers

All three are built with user-friendly development environments with sample documentation to help developers start their quantum journey.

Digital transformation would not slow down; new emerging technologies would be adopted across industries. If you want to be ready for the next wave of digital transformation, it is an excellent time to learn some basics about quantum computing.

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