Canadian prime-minister Justin Trudeau made worldwide headlines a few months ago, when a journalist asked him to explain quantum computing. Trudeau surprised the room, (and the internet) by giving a detailed, off-the-cuff summary of what quantum computing is and why it is such an exciting field.
Trudeau described quantum computing as:
‘Very simply … normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not — a one, or a zero. They’re binary systems. What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit.’
At a recent CeBIT Australia 2016 discussion, Associate Professor Michael Bremner from the University of Technology Australia, assessed Trudeau’s explanation. He admitted that while it ‘wasn’t bad,’ it needed some elaboration. Rather than information being encoded into a single bit, information is encoded into many quantum bits (or qubits).
As it now stands, regular or ‘conventional’ computers, according to Business Insider Australia: ‘can solve one problem at a time, in sequence, but quantum computers can solve multiple problems at the same time.’
This could have an enormous impact on how we approach information. For example:
‘Imagine you only have five minutes to find an “X” written on a page of a book in the Library of Congress (which has 50 million books). It would be impossible. But if you were in 50 million parallel realities, and in each reality you could look through the pages of a different book, in one of those realities you would find the “X”.’
This in a nutshell is why Professor Bremner and Prime-minister Trudeau are so excited about quantum computing. Its potential sounds like something from our wildest imaginings.
How could quantum computing change life?
At its core, quantum computing is about problem solving — just in a scale that you cannot imagine. If the field develops, it’s going to have huge implications on every industry in every conceivable way. For example, let’s take the transport industry:
In transport, there are a number of problems to solve. If you are going to a meeting across the city, you may look up the quickest route to get there. Professor Michelle Simmons, the director of Centre for Quantum Computation at the University of New South Wales, explains:
'If you have a salesman that wants to go to lots of different cities and work out the shortest possible route, the number of routes grows very, very quickly as you increase the number of cities,' she says.
'Already by the time of 14 different cities there are already 10 possible routes, which is a huge number. But classical computers are very fast ... it typically would only take around 100 seconds to work out what the shortest possible route is for 14 cities.
'But by the time you get to just 22 cities, only increasing it by a small number, there are now 1019 possible routes. For that same computer it would now take 1,600 years to work out what is the shortest possible route.
'A quantum computer working in a parallel processing fashion will be able to get those problems solved in real-time.'
And that is just one person going about their daily life. It is predicted that quantum computing will also affect traffic routes, undertaking mind-boggling calculations that will incorporate traffic lights, parking traffic behaviour, closed roads in order to decongest clogged up roads. While we are already starting to see exciting progress in this area, quantum computing has the ability to completely amplify current applications.
Even if the traffic conditions are excellent outside, you might not even need to leave your office to conduct business. Quantum computing will particularly affect encryption, ensuring the safe passage of potentially sensitive and confidential communications, but also commercial transactions, correspondence and cloud-based storage will be completely secure.
Fiat Physica gives the example:
‘you realise that you accidentally made a purchase on a dodgy website. But thanks to the new software that came out last week which incorporates quantum computing, your credit card information is still safe and sound.’
That is, if quantum computers don’t crack the current encryption model first, rendering all our current encryption methods useless.
At the moment, the race is on between groups who are working on quantum computers that can break any code and those organisations, such who are working on creating a quantum encryption. As it stands, many commentators are confident that the technology is such a way off, that an encryption solution will be available before our systems are made open to attacks.
Where is the technology at?
We are just at the very beginning of the possibilities that quantum computing could bring. And as Business Insider puts it:
‘If this still sounds like magic or witchcraft, you’re not alone. Physicist Richard Feynman once famously said: “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics.”
Most of us won’t ever get to own a quantum computer, or even glimpse one, but it’s very possible that our future lives and work will be completely dominated by its applications.
Want to learn more about how new and emerging technologies will affect our lives and business? Download our CeBIT 2016 SME report today.