You can now buy a quantum computer, Satyen K. Bordoloi explains its significance
The year 2022 has witnessed many significant moments: multiple lunar missions, fusion power, JWST’s new but ancient galaxies, ChatGPT, quantum leaps in quantum computing, etc. But what 2022 may one day be largely remembered for is as the year the first affordable the quantum computer went on sale.
Shenzhen SpinQ Technology Co., Ltd. has come out with three models – Gemini, Gemini Mini and Triangulum which are “portable” quantum computing models that anyone can buy. While the first two are “2 qubit stationary NMR quantum computer”, Triangulum is a “3 qubit stationary NMR quantum computer”.
Although the Chinese company had started shipping its quantum computers earlier and the first “real” quantum computer – IBM’s Quantum System One was installed in Germany on June 15, 2021, the uniqueness of these models is the weight and cost: 14 kg and 5000 USD Gemini Mini is the lightest and most affordable quantum computer in a market where the average low price is still a few hundred thousand with the high-end models selling for millions of dollars.
However, don’t expect to start editing your Instagram photo on them just yet. At 2 and 3 qbits, these models are minimal in power compared to those available in labs worldwide. The product description on their site reads: “Based on the theory of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), it uses the nuclear spin phenomenon as a qubit carrier to read and drive qubits’ states with RF pulses. The twins are great for education in quantum computing and some simple scientific research.”
Complex problem solving is out of the question but its potential to serve as an introduction to quantum computers and quantum circuit programming is huge. It could accelerate interest and funding for quantum computing research worldwide and push humanity faster into the quantum age.
The dawn of the quantum age
At a conference co-hosted by MIT and IBM in 1981, Richard Feynman had urged the world to build a quantum computer, saying: “Nature is not classical, and if you want to do a simulation of nature, you’d better do it quantum mechanical.”
This blog post from IBM summarizes the potential of quantum physics: “Quantum theory was a revolutionary advance in physics and chemistry in the early 20th century, an elegant mathematical theory that explained the bizarre behavior of subatomic particles and led to major technological advances such as lasers and transistor. But it was only in the last decade of the 20th century that it was realized that quantum theory does not only apply to atoms and molecules but also bits and logical operations in a computer.”
People who look at the world today and consider the exponential growth of artificial intelligence over the past decade and realize the breakneck speed of discovery and invention this millennium think of it as magical. But those who work in quantum computing know that we haven’t even begun to skim the surface of “magic”.
Some of the principles of quantum mechanics are so bizarre that even the genius Albert Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” He had trouble coming to terms with quantum physics because he could not imagine how all classical physics could be invalidated by the apparent lack of principles in the subatomic world. I can’t even fathom what he would have said about the same “spooky action” now formulated in principles good enough to make quantum computers.
Experiments on quantum computers in the labs of companies such as IBM and Google have shown that they are hundreds of millions of times faster than classical supercomputers today. If the ability to solve problems within the limits of mathematics and classical physics represented by ordinary computers could change our world so fundamentally, we cannot even fathom how dramatically everything would radically change with quantum computing.
And that’s not all. Computing power literally in the palms of people’s hands (your average cell phone is better and faster than supercomputers barely 3 decades ago) has dramatically changed the way we do things and perceive the world. Having computing power a hundred million times faster and better in the same hands will literally create magic. Of course it will create social dissonance because just “simple” computing in people’s hands generates much of it today. But this current phase of increasing division within humanity will perhaps better prepare us for the age of quantum computing.
Today, transferring data is a bit of an awkward possibility (let’s not even go into how it was in the analog age). Transferring just a 2GB file takes a dozen or so minutes to upload to the cloud, and the same or less for someone in a remote corner of the world to download it. But using the principles of quantum entanglement, we could one day transfer several terabytes of data from one quantum computer to another, not in dozens of minutes, or even a few minutes, not even in seconds, but perhaps instantaneously. Sound like magic? Not so if you know the principle of quantum entanglement. Scientists have already managed to load information into quantum entangled particles to transmit small bits of data. The technical term for it—strange yet appropriate—is teleportation.
This simple invention has the potential to change literally everything in the world. The world’s computing landscape will be revolutionized to an unrecognizable level. The entire computing architecture of the planet will change. Clouds can be a thing of the past. So could 6G or 7G telecommunications networks – would you need cables to transfer audio or video data between two mobiles when quantum entanglement could do it faster than anything else in the universe today?
Today, radio signals between the Perseverance rover waltzing on Mars and Earth take anywhere between 4.3 minutes to 21 minutes, depending on the distance between the two planets orbiting the Sun. In a couple of decades when quantum computers are small enough to be loaded onto spacecraft, communication will be instantaneous.
This will be the most important step for humans to become a truly space-faring civilization. Traveling far without being able to communicate quickly makes space travel problematic. And I’m not even going to explain what will happen when quantum artificial intelligence descends on the planet. Singularity maybe!
All these and so much more would be possible when quantum computing comes of age. Today, quantum computers are a bit where classical computers were in the 1950s – big and bulky with little computing power. But quantum computers are developing at a much faster rate than computers did in the 1950s, thanks to classical computers and artificial intelligence.
On the last day of 2042, we will be moving around with cell phones powered by quantum computers. That day, 20 years from now, will be made possible by the world’s Google, IBM, Alibaba, Atos and Baidu. The glimpse of that future is finally ready to redeem itself in the form of the Gemini and Gemini Mini quantum computers today. And that in itself changes everything.
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