Innovation Watch: What’s next for quantum computing?

Quantum computing has had a huge breakthrough: Quantum Supremacy. The audaciously named milestone has been a long time coming. We headed down to The Royal Institution to find out what exactly Quantum Supremacy means and how it’ll affect computing in the future.

UC Santa Barbara/Google researchers have created a machine able to solve a problem considered practically impossible for a ‘regular’ supercomputer to handle. This milestone, called Quantum Supremacy, has been a goal of researchers for a long time.

The machine used, ahem, 53 entangled quantum bits (or “qubits”) to solve a complex problem in 200 seconds. A problem that would have taken a current state-of-the-art supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

That’s, oh I don’t know, about 1.5 billion times faster.

There are a couple of caveats, however. The problem is one that was specifically designed to cause a classical computer to struggle and a quantum one to shine. Real world use of a quantum computer is still decades away.

Secondly IBM has made a statement that, with a few clever tweaks, it could be solved in two and a half days by its supercomputer, Summit.

Either way, it’s still a gigantic milestone to hit. Think of it as a proof of concept more than a go-to-market product.

What makes quantum computing fundamentally different? It’s cutting edge stuff that’s, frankly, a little advanced for us to properly wrap our heads around. We headed to The Royal Institution’s event Quantum in the City to find out more about how this tech works.

The answer lays in ‘bits’, the smallest unit of data in a computer. In classical computers these can either be a 1 or a 0 but quantum ‘qubits’ are different. They can be both a 1 ­and a 0 at the same time. It gives quantum computers an advantage with problems like factoring large numbers.

This technology has huge potential in areas other than computing too. We can use quantum imaging to create cameras that can photograph different gases or create an endoscope so thin we can use it to explore deeper in the human brain than ever before. And quantum security promises data so secure that the laws of physics literally prevent it from being hacked. (Take a minute to digest that!)

We can wait to see these technologies appear in the real world.