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How will quantum computing change the world? | The Economist


It’s predicted to solve some of the world’s most fundamental problems… …from inventing new drugs, to making brand new materials… …and creating more precise climate models It could solve some problems in seconds… …that would take current supercomputers thousands of years The technology is in its early stages… …but the effort is quickly gaining momentum So how will quantum computing change the world?A standard computer might have billions of bits……each one can be a one or a zero……and they’re all completely separate from each otherQuantum bits, or qubits, work differently for a couple of reasons……that come from quantum mechanicsThanks Jason, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole… …all you need to know is thisThe theory shows that certain kinds of problems……not all, just some particularly thorny ones……are made much easier when you’ve got quantum computersOne of those problems is in encryption……the kinds of codes that protect your credit-card details online……or your messages in Whatsapp or SignalWhat got people really interested in making quantum computers……was the realisation that they could break encryption……that was supposed to be too hard to crack……because regular computers couldn’t crack themThat’s the kind of thing that gets the attention of national governments……the ability to crack other countries’ encrypted networksAs in the case of artificial intelligence……China says it intends to lead the world in quantum science……and has announced plans to open its own national quantum laboratory……to open in 2020America is getting involved too……it intends to create a national quantum initiativeThat’s because the prize that quantum computing offers……the potential strategic or commercial advantage is hugeImagine if you could make minute-to-minute, real-time stock predictions……based on data from every trade ever made……or if you could simply compute the formula for a new fuel……or a drug that beats a horrible diseaseThat’s the kind of promise that quantum computing may offerThere are already quantum computers out there……but it’s a bit like the situation with regular computers in the 1950s……big basement-sized things that required a pile of PhDs to operate……and they still weren’t very powerful–A typewriter-like keyboard is the master control……sending out data and instructions on a punched tape……which in turn feeds the electronic computerThere’s a huge effort to make more powerful quantum computersThis used to be the stuff of university physics departments……but you can see the potential when you see who’s in the business nowIt’s big names like Google……Microsoft……IBMBut it’s not just about when one day one company or one lab……invents this one computerIt’s going to be a bunch of small advances……towards the kind that’s commercially available……reliable and can really solve some of these big problems–Problems that once took the human mind seven years to solveHere’s the thing……when we talk about quantum computing……people tend to think of all-singing, all-powerful machines that……can run any kind of program……what’s called a universal computerThat’s still a distant prospect……but in the meantime there will be smaller machines……more specific-purpose, less general-purposeThese things are incredibly hard to run……they’re held at temperatures lower than that of deep space……in very, very controlled laboratory environmentsEven if you could just pick one up off the shelf, you wouldn’t……yes, they’re incredibly powerful for some kinds of problems……but they’re not going to replace the kind of computer on your desk……or in your phoneYou don’t need quantum powers to edit photos or send emailsIn fact what will probably happen is that a few companies……have the best computers……and you can use them on a kind of time-share basis, in the cloud……or you send off your gnarly quantum problem……and just get an answer backBut the kinds of problems that we’ll be able to pose……the kinds of answers we’ll be able to get……are absolutely unthinkable nowThat’s what has governments, industry giants……and plucky startups in on the race

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