The 3 Types of Quantum Computers and Their Applications

The 3 Types of Quantum Computers and Their Applications

The 3 Types of Quantum Computers and Their Applications

It’s an exciting time in computing.

Just days ago, Google’s AlphaGo AI took an insurmountable lead in the 3,000 year-old game of Go against the reigning world champion, Lee Sedol. In a five-game series, the score is now 3-1 for the machine with one game left on March 15, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea.

While IBM’s Deep Blue beat reigning chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 by using brute force, Go is a game with more possible moves than atoms in the known universe (literally). Therefore, the technology doesn’t yet exist to make such calculations in short amounts of time.

Google had to take a different approach: to beat the grand master, it needed to enable AlphaGo to self-improve through deep learning.

AlphaGo’s historical decision is a milestone for artificial intelligence, and now the technology community is anxiously waiting to see what’s next for AI. Some say that it is beating a human world champion at a real-time strategy game such as Starcraft, while others look to quantum computing – technology that could raise the potential power of AI exponentially.

What is Quantum Computing?

While everyday analog computing is limited to having a single value of either 0 or 1 for each bit, quantum computing uses quantum bits (qubits) that are simultaneously in both states (0 and 1) at the same time.

The consequence of this superposition, as it’s called, is that quantum computers are able to test every solution of a problem at once. Further, because of this exponential relationship, such computers should be able to double their quantum computing power with each additional qubit.

Qubits explained
Image credit: Universe Review

Types of Quantum Computers

There are three types of quantum computers that are considered to be possible by IBM. Shown in the above infographic, they range from a quantum annealer to a universal quantum.

The quantum annealer has been successfully developed by Canadian company D-Wave, but it is difficult to tell whether it actually has any real “quantumness” thus far. Google added credibility to this notion in December 2015, when it revealed tests showing that its D-Wave quantum computer was 3,600 times faster than a supercomputer at solving specific, complex problems.

Expert opinion, however, is still skeptical on these claims. Such criticisms also shed light on the major limitation of quantum annealers, which is that they may only be engineered to solve very specific optimization problems, and have limited general practicality.

The holy grail of quantum computing is the universal quantum, which could allow for exponentially faster calculations with more generality.

However, building such a device ends up posing a number of important technical challenges. Quantum particles turn out to be quite fickle, and the smallest interference from light or sound can create errors in the computing process.

Doing calculations at exponential speeds is not very useful when those calculations are incorrect.

The Market and Applications

IBM highlights just some of the possibilities around universal quantum computers in a recent press release:

A universal quantum computer uses quantum mechanics to process massive amounts of data and perform computations in powerful new ways not possible with today’s conventional computers. This type of leap forward in computing could one day shorten the time to discovery for life-saving cancer drugs to a fraction of what it is today; unlock new facets of artificial intelligence by vastly accelerating machine learning; or safeguard cloud computing systems to be impregnable from cyber-attack.

This means that quantum computing could be a trillion dollar market, touching massive future markets such as artificial intelligence, robotics, defense, cryptography, and pharmaceuticals.

However, until a universal quantum can be built, the market remains fairly limited in size and focused on R&D. Quantum computing is expected to surpass a market of $5 billion market by 2020.

As a final note: its worth seeing where quantum computing sits on Gartner’s emerging technology hype cycle:

Tech hype cycle

Gartner still describes it as being “10 years or more” away from reaching the plateau.


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