Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made waves at a press conference a few weeks ago when a journalist jokingly asked him to explain quantum computing. ‘Very simply … normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not — a one, or a zero. They’re binary systems,’ said Trudeau, to the surprise of the audience. ‘What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit.’ Associate Professor Michael Bremner, speaking at CeBIT 2016, gave his assessment of Trudeau’s answer: ‘Not bad.’ But rather than information being encoded into a single bit, he says, it is in fact being encoded into many quantum bits (or qubits).
Bremner, who is currently at the Centre for Quantum Computation and Intelligent Systems at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), predicts quantum supremacy – when quantum computers will overtake the capabilities of current computers – is only 2 to 7 years away. In fact, he says, we are currently living through a period of major development in the world of physics, which have come to a tipping point in just the last couple of years – hence why so much funding has been funnelled into quantum computing, and why it is so often in the news nowadays. With the advancements being made by Google and IBM in superconductors, and those being made by NIST and Innsbruck, Maryland and Oxford universities in trapped ions, the development of intermediate-model quantum computers has recently become possible, and they are quickly improving.
The next leap will be in the development of fault-tolerant qubits, where quantum error-correcting code is introduced to qubits to cope with the noise they create, which can limit their processing capabilities. By cutting down and eventually eliminating this noise, scientists will be able to scale up the size of the quantum computers.
Quantum computers could potentially radicalise our world in terms of their applications. It has already been shown that quantum computation has applications in chemistry, materials science, precision measurement and cryptography. Emerging applications include optimisation, big data, machine learning and climate modelling.
So where is quantum computing headed over the next 5 years?
- Increased ‘crossover’ between industrial computing applications and quantum algorithms
- Quantum supremacy experiments with intermediate-model quantum computers
- Experimental demonstrations of fault-tolerant qubits
- Continual improvement in quantum engineering and device characterisation.
It’s exciting times ahead in the world of quantum computing, and we’ll no doubt be hearing a lot more about it in our news feeds in the coming months.