Up until now, quantum computers have been merely science fiction, relegated to TV shows and sci-fi novels, and the dreams of scientists and computer geeks the world over. But that could soon change. As our computing technology becomes faster and smaller we are coming ever closer to the elusive quantum computer.
The basic difference between classical computing and quantum computing will be the speed at which the computer is able to solve problems. With classic computers, the general thought is that problems that we can’t solve in any reasonable amount of time with just good old plain human brain power, can be solved relatively quickly. But with quantum computers the size of the problems we will be able to solve will seem astronomical compared to what today’s computers are capable of.
For the average person, a quantum computer may not do much to change their everyday lives, or at least not in the way that most people use computers today. Record keeping, sending emails and social media will likely not be changed much by these amazing new computers, but the way we interact with encrypted data will certainly see some changes. What will change for sure is the way scientists solve major problems, things like how to cure diseases, discovering new medicines, changing the molecular structure of materials like plastic (think of all those water bottles in landfills and what would change if they were biodegradable) and maybe even finding new ways to travel to other planets, or solve major world issues like poverty.
Beyond the question of what we will actually be able to do with a quantum computer is how exactly to build one. The biggest obstacle will likely be how to transport information within the computer. There are two options and to understand either you have to know that qubits (quantum bits) in classic computers can be 1 or 0, whereas in quantum computing the qubits can be both at the same time.
But perhaps the most important thing that quantum computing will bring to our current technological state is the new tech that we will have to create in order to build a quantum computer. The National Science Foundation has announced plans to officially pursue the knowledge necessary to get us there with their new STAQ (Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design) project. The project will be bringing together scientists, programmers, engineers, and physicists from around the country to get the job done, with a cool $15 million dollar budget and a 5 year set proposal to see the world’s first quantum computer.
The NSF is not the only agency to be on the path to quantum computing though – IBM and Google are both on the bandwagon as well. But the NSF is an academic study, whereas the privatized companies that are making their own way towards quantum computing may have some limitations to what they can delve into and how their quantum computing could be used. Regardless of who builds the first quantum computer, it seems that the future is very close indeed.