Common objects in sci-fi movies, quantum computers have jumped from movie screens to reality in the last three decades. The evolution of very powerful PCs has made Google set a record for quantum supremacy, with a calculation resolved in just 200 seconds. The technology, which promises high processing power to combat and solve scientific problems, can spark curiosity among ordinary PC users.
With some models of quantum computers scattered around the world, Techidence gathers some interesting facts about the models and also reveals the main questions about the operation and use of the machines.
How were they conceived?
The “father” of quantum computing is physicist Paul Benioff, who proposed, in the 1980s, the creation of machines that would use quantum physics principles to work. In this manner, quantum computers would be able to support technology, performing more elaborate tasks. This use was thought to go beyond the capabilities of conventional computers for daily use. With this idea in mind, scientists began to develop the prototypes and mapped out the first experiments with the new technology in 1990.
How do they work?
The supercomputer applies notions of quantum physics to work. While a conventional electronic computer manipulates information from values that are represented by binary numbers (0 or 1), a quantum computer uses qubits – the quantum bits, which can allow a value of 0, 1 or both at the same time.
A conventional computer performs day-to-day user functions by transforming all data into 0 or 1 strings, using the simpler and less elaborate binary system. The use of so-called bits, which are adopted in this system, is capable of solving any issue, from the display of images on the monitor screen, to the simulation of calculations. In the quantum computer, the operations go through a technology called qubits, where the information can allow up to two different values simultaneously.
This variation between the values has deep impacts, especially in heavier calculations: if a bit can obtain two different values at the same time, the computer can save time when processing very demanding tasks. It is this characteristic that places quantum computers as ideal machines to solve theoretical problems of Mathematics or Physics.
Can they be used in everyday tasks?
For the time being, it is not possible to have a quantum computer at home. With complex functionality and the need for ample space for their installation, supercomputers have narrow uses for science and technology. Moreover, as this area of information technology is relatively new and still little explored, there is not much software available for this type of computer. Computer scientists and software developers are still working on new concepts so that applications created for conventional machines can also be reproduced on this type of machine.
What are they for?
Besides the scientific and academic character of these systems, quantum computers today have a limited scope of applications. The main types of use are related to scientific research: studies in the areas of astrophysics, physics, and mathematics. But applications with short-term results are also possible, such as extremely precise and complex simulations of climate behavior on the planet.
Other studies discussed are in the area of biotechnology and cutting-edge medicine, which could transform the existing technology in computers to reproduce advanced studies on the behavior of proteins, organs, and cells in the human body.
Are Quantum Computers available globally?
The presence of quantum computers has not yet reached many countries. The precariousness of resources in the sectors of semiconductors and microelectronics prevents many countries from taking off in the manufacture of this type of machine.
Today, the race for quantum computers is mainly concentrated in North America. The big leaders in the area are IBM and Google, but with relevant efforts from Intel and Microsoft in the sector. Furthermore, the Canadian company D-Wave was the pioneer in the commercial exploration of quantum systems.
How much does a quantum computer cost?
There are no recent prices circulating in the market as to how much it costs to create a quantum computer. However, estimates point to a cost in the range of $10 billion to develop a system from scratch.
Companies operating in the industry, such as IBM, do not sell quantum computers. What they do in practice is to rent processing time on the machines to those who need this kind of tool. The exception is D-Wave, which commercializes the 2000Q, a system of 2000 qubits, for $15 million a unit.