Supercomputers are used by engineers and scientists to solve difficult problems. These supercomputers are large, classical computers that often have thousands of CPU and GPU cores. But even supercomputers have difficulty solving certain types of issues. Quantum computing, a rapidly emerging technology, uses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems that are too difficult for classical computers.
Complexity is often the reason classical computers fail. A supercomputer will often get stumped because it gives a complex problem. Complex problems involve issues that have many variables interconnected in complex ways. Because of the interaction of many electrons, modeling the behavior of individual molecules is difficult. It is also challenging to determine the best routes for a few hundred vessels in a global shipping system.
The best way to understand a quantum computing system, other than spending a lot of time at Caltech or MIT, is to compare it with the computer. The machine’s computing power comes from its sheer number of transistors. A 120.5 sq. meter can hold sixteen billion transistors. It’s a lot. It had fewer than 800 when it first became transistorized. The ability of the semiconductor industry to engineer more transistors onto a single chip has been what has allowed the exponential growth in computing power.
However, there are certain things that classic computers won’t be able to do. This is where quantum computers’ unique and bizarre properties come in.
Quantum computers use qubits to process information instead of bits. Qubits can be both “0” or “1” at once. How does that happen? I’m not sure how to explain it. Still, qubits use the quantum mechanical phenomenon called “superposition,” where subatomic particles’ properties cannot be determined until they are measured. You can think of Schrodinger as a cat, simultaneously alive until it opens.
Quantum computers could simulate the properties of a hypothetical battery to design one that’s more efficient and powerful than the current versions. They could solve logistical issues, find optimal delivery routes, and improve climate science forecasts.
Quantum computers can break cryptography, potentially making everything insecure, including emails and financial data. This is why the race to be the world’s greatest quantum computer is an international competition. The Chinese government has invested billions of dollars. These concerns prompted the White House to issue a new memorandum earlier this month to build national leadership in quantum computing and prepare the country to deal with quantum-assisted cybersecurity threats.