The 5 things about Quantum Computing you need to know…

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Picture IBM stack.

Truth out…

I have been and around Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Information Sciences for a number of years now. I also have a computer science background which is only marginally helpful. This is because we are breaking new ground.

Here are my five things you should know about Qantum:

ONE: What are they really? Quantum Computers that is, as they are unlike anything we have seen before. They are different to Classical Computers in so many ways. They are an entirely new species of technology. So you might be asking, why all the fuss?

A simple answer is they offer ‘brute force’ computing that offers humanity for the first time the capability to processing complex things that cannot be contemplated on Classical Computers. So called ‘hard problems’. But they cannot do everything and there are many things they would be no good at doing. And yes they need Classical Computers alongside them. Their role to help break the problems down into management steps. Such as Integer Factorization - working backwards on large numbers using Shor’s Law to find the divisible integers. The achillies heel of all encryption of course.

Let us also not forget these amazing machines harness the power of atomic particles which is a little concerning given the past chap that played with this stuff was Oppenheimer in 16th July 1945, and we know how that ended.

However, what we do know is this:

How we think our world and the universe works, doesn’t!

Hard problems: Abiogenesis

What is Abiogenesis…? It is what happens near volcanic vents on the ocean floor. It is thought to be where the basis of life itself was created and provides clues to how life works, how the enzymes and proteins are formed to create life. But the equation using clasical computers cannot be contemplated:

FeS + H2S > FeS2 + 2H+ + 2e- = Is this LIFE?

TWO: Quantum Computers are strange looking! Well actually they aren’t that strange at all, as what you see with all the (cryostat) casing removed are gold pipes that are part of the cooling mechanism. This assumes you are looking at a Superconductor machine, that operates at near Absolute Zero temperatures.

Personally I think they look amazing, alien like. The core of the machine is a QuantumChip at the tip (bottom), that comprises of a series of Quantum Gates that are capable of working with the Qubits (Quantum Bits rather than just Bits). These are the things that unlock the computational capabilities.

The fundamental issue here with Quantum Computers is to create these Qubits, that are atomic particles that whizz around super fast, they don’t behave and follow different laws, or actually not, which is where the ‘Uncertainty Principals’ come in. This principle also explains why experiments cannot be exactly repeated. But they (the particles) do succumb to different ways to harness their potential and get these little buggers to do what we want, or close to what we want.

The key to everything is placing them in ‘Superposition’ where they can hold multiple states at the same time (the brute force computational part) and keep the secret relationship going, between different particles a state called ‘Entanglement’. In this state they work together to produce massively scaling computing capabilities, million of times more than we have today! This is the essence of everything. The very essence of what we are dealing with. Where the magic happens.

To get to this point normally involved lasers, creating fields and super low temperatures so we can then influence their (atoms) behaviours. Not easy since atomic particles are temperamental, don’t do as they are told and cannot be accurately predicted.

Other Quantum machines use different techniques and approaches to create their particular Computational outcomes. Some work at room temperature, others use different atomic particles from different substances. One has to remember it is early days and progress is picking up the pace. The rate of exponential learning is increasing.

Nothing like a bit of Quantum Supremacy competition — Google with IBM, Honeywell with others… It adds spice but is not that useful.

THREE: Quantum Computing takes the concept of ‘exponential scaling’ to the next level. Allowing humanity to take on the so called ‘hard problems’. Yes, if you have guessed this is very important. Only then in my view can humanity fulfil its true potential.

The challenge remains as follows: we don’t understand how the world around us and the universe really works. As Richard Feynman, probably the finest physicist that lived, once said “If you want to understand nature build a quantum machine”.

There are many hard problems to solve, and yes Classical Computers are making progress, step by step using better algorithms, for example Alexanet that is working on understanding flat proteins, for a long time thought to be associated with Alzheimers. But is takes too long. Although the rate of learning is doubling every few months.

Here is another hard problem. 3% of the world’s green house gases are created in the process of heating ammonia to produce fertiliser, essential for keeping up with food production and the demand of a spiraling global population. Many believe it is possible to produce ammonia at room temperature, but the equation for working it out is beyond the capabilities of Classical Computers. Having said that, Classical Computers will get there eventually, but not in a gazillion lifetimes.

Cures for cancer and other deceases, advancing research but also working out chemical compounds and combinations of drugs from treatments.

Humanity knows where to look for the answers, but we don’t yet have the means to get to understand them.

Quantum Computation will enable humanity to see over the next horizon.

FOUR: Is it true Quantum Computers will render all encryption useless. YES…! The question you should be asking is when? What time frame?

RSA encryption forms the basis of modern encryption. It is amazing to think our entire security framework for everything, our data, government systems, defence systems, company systems rely on our ability to multiply large numbers to create long numeric numbers we often call Keys, to scramble (encrypt using cyphers) messages and data, using the Key(s) to decode between sender and receiver.

So our inability to work through Integer Factorisation to find the integer has been our only protection against the dark arts, the hackers, malware and the likes of NotPetya.

I feel sort of dissappointed as I imagined something more substantial was protecting us. But no, simple division of large numbers is the flaw. SHOR’s law helps Quantum Machines deliver the brute force to find the answer in minutes and not millions/billions of years. But when?

Many predict another decade or more. I am affraid I don’t buy this for one reason. The rate of Exponential Learning and when Quantum meets AI. Given Alphas Zero’s performance playing Go, Alexanet doubling of learning every 3.5 months…nobody knows for sure how quickly we will get there. Which opens up the other debate around AI, the Turing test and SuperIntelligence.

I give it 3 to 5 years before all encryption is rendered useless…but there are things you can do now to protect yourself and make things Quantum Safe. But the world won’t be prepared until the demonstration of absolute power happens! Then it’s too late anyway.

FIVE: Is it true most Physicists don’t really understand Quantum Computers, specifically what happens with ‘entanglement’..? My answer is again YES.

The challenge for theoretical physicists and the Quantum community is everyone can confirm that two (or more) atomic particles such as Photons form a close relationship across space and time, but nobody knows how, they just now it is happening. And different to String Theory, or is it part of it?

Which then gets us thinking about the wider aspects of how things work. For the experts and the Physicists, we have the Standard Model, which was supplimented (added) by the discovery of Higgs at Cern, seen as the missing part that maybe holds the universe together. Which gets me to my favourite part.

Morphogenesis what was in my view Alan Turing’s greatest achievement, not the breaking of codes, although this was epic. So here is the concept. Morphogensis is the discovery that all cells are created equal, and as they double and grow Turing noticed they start to arrange themselves and cluster. All cells start the same, but them cluster into blobs that start to form diffrent things — bone, tissue, eyes, hair. I think you get the picture.

But here is the thing — what is telling the cells what to do? How do they know? What makes them cluster up? Then decide to make hair rather than skin, or a heart rather than an eye?


So there you have it a short explanation of some of the aspects of Quantum Computing, part of Quantum Information Sciences, and Theorectical Physics. You now understands its potential and how mad it seems.

Even Einsteain struggled with the concepts of Entanglement. You have had a tiny glimpse of the sub-atomic world of small particles (deeper that atoms, photons, protons, as we find Bosons, Qarks, and now Higgs), that don’t do as they are told, and where Quantum engineers are working hard to harness their potential — to unlock great computational power that will move humanity to the next phase of civilisation.

Given the Covid19 pandemic we could certainly do with Quantum brute force to give us the answers, find the cure and extrapolate when we can expect to get hit with the next outbreak.

Nick Ayton

Deep Tech Advisor and Quantum Believer…. © 2020

Written by

Nick Ayton is a Deep Tech advisory to Boardrooms & Investors, Quantum Computing, AI, Blockchain specialist. Futurist speaker. Film Maker

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