Quantum Computing for Beginners: What You Need to Know

One of the major areas of research and development to get the most hype in recent times is Quantum Computing – the holy grail of the computing revolution that is supposed to be the next big advancement. It is fundamentally different than classical computing and promises the technology to solve problems that are intractable with current technology. Solving these problems will have direct impact on scientific breakthroughs and the global economy. Thus, research and effort from companies and universities are gaining momentum to create a product that can actually solve real world problems and understand new possibilities.

QC is based on principles of quantum mechanics, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in quantum mechanics to use a Quantum Computer. To make an analogy, we don’t think about underlying chip technology while using our PC or phone, it is all abstracted for programmers and users. But it is required to understand the fundamental difference between digital computers and quantum computers. Digital computers understand bits i.e. either 0 or 1  and QC understand qubits i.e. either 0 or 1 or 0 and 1 at the same time. This superposition of state allows QC to be faster and more efficient. The second property is entanglement in the qubit. This means all the qubits can be manipulated simultaneously. These complex approaches definitely have a learning curve and it takes time to understand the quantum realm.

Quantum Computers Explained – Limits of Human Technology

The difference in power of these two computers is so striking that if you consider digital computers to be a horse, then QC would be fighter jets from space. The development of QCs is still in the very early stage but that doesn’t discount the need and exponential growth it promises anyway.

What researchers say and are working upon

As Richard Feynman, a great scientist and quantum theorist, stated, “We can’t simulate a quantum computer on a classical computer”.  Research efforts are based on creating a Universal Quantum Computer as a platform that can be used by researchers and engineers.This includes creating chips and machines that can capture the behaviour of particles and use their effect. It needs a sophisticated environment with extremely ultra low temperature and magnetic environment to capture  particle behaviours. This video from Dwave describes it. So, unlike a personal computer sitting on our desk, it is accessible as a cloud service to researchers and programmers.

There is an infinite scope of research and development in the field. Some of the research areas can be found in these links:

  1. Quantum computing research , Waterloo
  2. Institute of quantum information and matter, Caltech
  3. Quantum AI, Google
  4. Quantum computing research, IBM

What are the learning resources available ?

Lectures and Materials

  1. MIT xPro quantum computing  paid course
  2. Coursera, Introduction to quantum computing free course
  3. Quantum mechanics and Quantum computation course, Edx  
  4. MIT materials
  5. Other references, Youtube videos and blogs
Google and NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab

Code and Tools

  • IBM Quantum computer – it is freely accessible to everyone  
  • Quantum computing playground
  • Project Q,Quantum information software kit
  • Research papers available – Arxiv, Academic papers, Research papers
  • Topcoder  Fujitsu challenge – Quantum computing challenge using simulated annealing.

Books

  • Quantum computing for everyone book
  • Quantum-Computing-since-Democritus-Aaronson, book

Why businesses are beginning to care about quantum computing ?

The increasing momentum in the field and the promise of QC is attracting companies and investors around the world. It is quite obvious that businesses want to be on the forefront of research to take the competitive edge.  A universal quantum computer will allow companies to involve people to solve real-world problems that are not possible to solve with classical computers. It will impact hard problems from many fields:

  1. Machine learning :  Optimization in Artificial intelligence and machine learning. DARPA RFI
  2. Weather and Climate : QC can handle many environment variables to forecast near term weather
  3. Personalized Medicine  : Decoding DNA to prescribe drugs targeted to patients. Decoding protein structure can help identify new drugs.
  4. Space exploration  : To process enormous amount of imaginary data.
  5. Fundamental Science  : To process larger data in real world problems.
  6. Encryption :  All the current encryption protocol will be at risk with quantum computers until we create a quantum encryption.
  7. Real time language translation : Real time translation between any two languages.