In the next decade, we could see computers uncovering some of life’s most prominent puzzles, from world hunger to global warming.
Quantum computing is a mind-boggling topic. However, we have software developer and quantum enthusiast, Steve Bowman, on hand to explain some of the basic principles and how these machines are set to transform the world
So, what are quantum computers?
In very basic terms, a quantum computer differs from your everyday computer in the way that it processes data.
A normal computer needs bits to operate, each of which is either a 1 or a 0 at any one time - they have a definite state.
On the other hand, a quantum computer uses quantum bits, which have a superposition of states - basically, they could be in multiple states at the same time!
Remember learning about Schrödinger's cat at school?
The thought experiment theorised that if a cat was placed in a sealed box, along with a flask of poison, the cat would both be dead and alive until we opened the box to find out.
It sounds crazy, but this is the way the universe works - nature only makes a choice when it is forced to.
Don’t worry if you don’t 100% understand. Richard Feynman, who worked in quantum mechanics said: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”
What’s important is some of the incredible applications of quantum computers!
How can quantum computers be used?
There are so many exciting applications.
Essentially, they solve the needle-in-a-haystack issues; the problems where we need to select the best possible solution from a lot of possible answers.
For example, discovering new medicine and materials, improving logistics and advancing our knowledge in chemistry and biology.
In many cases, we have known the complex equations to solve many problems, however, we haven’t been able to solve them.
One of the main examples of quantum computing application the prevention of global warming. The powerful machines could give us answers around carbon capture, which involves trapping the carbon emissions we produce and storing them away from the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, they could also be used in nitrogen-fixing, which is essentially taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser - this could allow us to grow more food and perhaps end hunger.
Wow! So, they could solve some of the world’s key issues?
Yep! It’s important to note that, at the moment, the best supercomputer in the world wouldn’t be able to solve these equations before the universe ended, whereas a quantum computer could answer them in a few seconds or a few days at most.
There’s also a theory that our brains are quantum computers. We can’t completely simulate the cells in our body yet, but once we do, imagine the progress we could make?
Are there quantum computers out there today?
A common misconception is that they are just a theory. However, we’ve recently managed to build small and fragile quantum computers that are processing some equations.
Microsoft and IBM are making headway in quantum computing. IBM has a number of machines, whilst Microsoft has a simulator publically available online, so you can play around with and run code, if you wish.
Currently, the machines have to be kept in a cold, controlled environment, but there are plans to create one stable enough to operate at room temperature.
You’re a regular speaker at the monthly CodePen meetup at C4DI. What drives you to share your knowledge with others in this way?
I think it’s just my sheer love of the subject. It’s a tricky topic to get your head around, but I just love talking about it.
What I love about CodePen is hearing about what other developers and creators are up to. It’s great to connect with like-minded people about subjects you’re all passionate about.
You can find out more about Steve Bowman via his website.
Meanwhile, the next CodePen Hull event is on Monday 10 September. Keep up-to-date via their Twitter.