Quantum Computing is the Future of Technology
We expect quantum computers to open doors that we once thought would remain locked indefinitely, said in the interview for ICTbusiness.biz Zlatko Minev who is working on IBM Quantum computing projects. Minev surprised the quantum community by settling a debate that's divided physicists for over a century — it was assumed that the energy level of atoms changed in abrupt, random, so-called 'quantum jumps.' Minev devised a landmark experiment and advanced quantum technology to show the contrary — in an experiment deemed impossible. His experiment not only predicts the occurrence of quantum jumps but seizes control of their imminent fate.
Many people today are talking about quantum computing. What is basically quantum computing and how to build a quantum computer?
Quantum computers are incredibly powerful machines that take a new approach to processing information. Built on the principles of quantum mechanics, they exploit complex and fascinating laws of nature that are always there, but usually remain hidden from view. By harnessing such natural behavior, quantum computers can run new types of algorithms to process information in ways that have been consider beyond the reach of classical computers. Quantum computers may one day lead to revolutionary breakthroughs in a host of applications; the field is looking at materials and drug discovery, the optimization of complex manmade systems, and artificial intelligence. We expect quantum computers to open doors that we once thought would remain locked indefinitely.
Think about the last time you hosted a dinner party of a dozen people. To create the most memorable evening, you considered the personalities, interests, and backgrounds of each guest, and then arranged them at the table to facilitate conversation. In other words, you optimized the evening for maximum happiness. If you were to add one more guest, there wouldn’t be just one new configuration to consider; it might totally change your entire seating arrangement. Now imagine the same exercise for a wedding of 200 guests or a gathering of 10,000. Obviously, we humans quickly hit our limitations when faced with such problems. Today’s classical computers are far better, but they have limits, too. For problems of a certain size, even our best machines can’t find the best solution – not in a billion years.
So why are quantum computers different? It boils down to three fundamentally quantum effects: superposition, entanglement, and interference. The building blocks of quantum computers are quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in a state known as quantum superposition. Qubits that are then entangled – connected through what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” – can then lead to exponential compute spaces. For example: A 2-qubit system can exist in a superposition of four states, a 3-qubit system can exist in a superposition of eight states, a 4-qubit system can be in a superposition of 16 states, and so on. Interference, which describes the phenomenon known as “phase,” then amplifies (or cancels out) signals from the qubits. So, the power of quantum computers can in a sense grow exponentially as we add qubits (assuming error rates are kept low). This allows us to solve a problem whose complexity grows exponentially with a quantum computer whose power grows in the same manner.
What kind of technology quantum computer is built on? Is it safe, can it be built at home? What kind of processor does it use?
The most identifiable part of a quantum computer is the golden chandelier you may often see photographed. This is basically a giant refrigerator to keep the qubits at temperatures near absolute zero (-273 C). It contains lots of coils which send the microwave pulses to the bottom of the chandelier which in the case of IBM's quantum computers contains the superconducting quantum chips, which are made if silicon.
You wouldn't want to build this at home because maintaining the temperature requires the use of several gases, like liquid helium but with training and safety equipment, it's a very safe environment. Of course, you don't need to build one at home because IBM offers a number of quantum computers over the cloud, several of which are freely available for anyone to use via the IBM Quantum Experience.
This is a very interesting technology and not to use it at home. Is there a future for quantum computers in everyday life like a home or business computer?
For the foreseeable future quantum computers will not replace classical computers, like supercomputers and laptops, but work with them in parallel. Similar to a GPU or any hardware accelerator. So, while you won't be using quantum computer to edit your home videos, it will be used by enterprises to impact your life. For example, Delta Airlines is studying how quantum computers can improve routing and Daimler is using the technology to investigate electric vehicle batteries.
In which direction is quantum computing today developing? What is the future?
The future of quantum development is aimed at achieving quantum advantage—this is the point when we achieve something useful on a quantum computer which cannot be done classically—nicknamed “quantum advantage.” We expect quantum advantage will be achieved within the next decade.
Longer-term, the ultimate goal is a fully, fault tolerant quantum computer, which means it won't have any errors, but this is still decades away.
Today quantum computers can do abstract algorithms. What is the idea behind it?
Developing algorithms depends on the circuits able to run quantum hardware. Circuits are the building blocks of quantum applications.
And to improve the capabilities of the algorithms possible on quantum computers, we need to continue improving all aspects of system performance. The total performance of a quantum computer can be reflected in a metric called the Quantum Volume. It measures the length and complexity of the circuits that can be executed. The higher the Quantum Volume, the higher the potential for exploring solutions to real world problems across industry, government, and research.
Can you explain the "quantum jumps"?
It is reputed that no one can predict the time when an atom will “jump” from one of its discrete energy levels to another—the quantum jump. Einstein went against this as far as to famously write, “God does not play dice with the Universe.”
Quantum jumps precisely epitomize the opposite—fundamental unpredictability and fundamental discreteness. These are two core pillars that set quantum apart from our classical world, that of our everyday life experience.
Quantum jumps are now routinely observed and have not only stayed with us for more than 100 years, but they have become a mainstay ingredient of quantum technologies, such as quantum error correction for quantum computers.
However, now, as Nature, the scientific journal that published my paper “To catch and reverse a quantum jump mid-flight,” based on my dissertation results, wrote that my research overturns the purported view of the instantaneous and unpredictable nature of quantum jumps—to show that, instead, they have a real underlying trajectory and level of predictability that allows them to be controlled.
Nature summarizes the scientific significance “[The] Experiment overturns Bohr’s view of quantum jumps, demonstrating that they possess a degree of predictability and when completed are continuous, coherent and even deterministic.”
The experiment I proposed and carried out shows that we can now zoom in on the dynamics of the jump in a way that until now has been impossible.
The jump from the ground state to an excited state of an atom can be tracked as it follows what essentially is a predictable, continuous, smooth ‘flight’.
I like to give the analogy that quantum jumps of an atom are somewhat analogous to the eruption of a volcano. They are completely unpredictable in the long term. Nonetheless, with the correct monitoring we can with certainty detect an advance warning of an imminent disaster and act on it before it has occurred
Scientifically, my work in predicting and reversing a quantum jump settles a hundred-year-long heated debate between Bohr, Schrodinger, and Einstein—the chief architects of quantum physics
Predicting the jumps could reshape our core understanding of the quantum realm and could shape research and impact our view of nature for decades ahead.
Is it possible to use it in some kind of future technology - maybe some kind of supercomputers?
Yes, this goes back to the earlier question on achieving applications with a Quantum Advantage
Technologically, my discovery led to the most sensitive and time-resolved quantum measurements and feedback to date, which helps pave the way to greatly improved quantum sensing technology.
Exploiting this, we can now anticipate a jump near-perfectly before it even occurs—opening the door to radically new advances to correct the errors bedeviling quantum computers.
Quantum errors are likely the biggest hurdle to practical quantum computers. The special character that makes quantum devices able to perform feats unattainable by their classical counterparts, coherence and entanglement, are very precarious. Errors inevitably, randomly, and unpredictably occur. These errors quickly corrupt the delicate quantum state of a qubit—the basic building block of quantum computer. These errors derail the quantum calculation.
The errors are generally some type of a quantum jump. If we can anticipate the occurrence of an error (a quantum jump) before it does occur and propagates to corrupt the entire quantum computation, then we could potentially innerve to reverse it before its detrimental impact, just as demonstrated in my experiment for a single qubit.