Rivalry is part of history, including technology. Windows or Linux. Android or iOs. The last battlefield where computing has entered is quantum computing. IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel are fighting to find the Holy Grail of what promises to be the next great revolution in data processing. Dario Gil, vice president of Science and Technology at IBM Research, is clear that we are facing an unparalleled situation to change the world.
In contrast, quantum technology also works with the superposition of both and they are called qubits. The main consequence is that, if bits are added to a computer, information management increases in a linear way. If you use qubits, however, the processes increase exponentially.
The revolution predicted by the experts is not so new. Twenty-five years ago, Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner, was already interested in the problems of computing. He proposed at that time the first theoretical model of a quantum computer after observing that computers were only good at simulating classic problems. What Feynman introduced, IBM started last year with the Quantum Experience project. It is a cloud platform open to experts and researchers on a five-qubit processor.
In order not to let the train of the quantum holy grail escape, the other technological giants are also fighting to be pioneers in the commercialization of these computers. Google, for example, has managed to manufacture a six-qubit chip and John Martinis, head of the research group of those of Mountain View in the branch, has assured that they are working on designs for between 30 and 50 qubits. Microsoft has focused on seeing how to intertwine anyones, particles that only exist in two dimensions and that physicists believe could be the basis of quantum computing. And in this battle of the big names there are also modest players like the University of Sussex in the UK. Thanks to a joint project with three other centers of higher education, it presented earlier this year the first plans for building a large-scale quantum computer.
Artificial intelligence, medicine, chemistry or logistics can benefit from these advances
Beyond understanding exactly what quantum computing is – Sheldon Cooper may be interested in it – the social relevance is given by the uses it can have. As Gil points out, artificial intelligence, medicine, chemistry or logistics can benefit from these advances.
If we focus on our day-to-day work, Gil also explains the possible benefits of quantum processors. «They would allow us to understand our world. We need them to interpret it and see it. For example, this technology would help us make our car easier to drive because it observes and understands what we’re doing. Or if we send an e-mail, that not only transmits data, but also reads what we have written and can incorporate information that improves it,» he says.
The farthest classical computing has come is the Watson intelligence computer system, developed by IBM. It is capable of answering questions thanks to a database with a multitude of sources, such as encyclopedias or dictionaries. The quantum race goes further, because it can process much more data in less time. Even so, Gil warns that this technology must be demystified: «It is powerful. It can do many things, but it is not all-powerful. It’s not something we can’t control.
For about 3.8 million euros you can buy a quantum computer. D-Wave, a Canadian company, has already marketed some models. The main problems this computer encounters, apart from the lack of development and high prices, are temperature -they need a cooling system close to absolute zero, that is, 273 degrees below zero-; the processing limit is about 50 qubits; and the so-called decoherence -from 15 qubits, these lose their values and are simplified into ones and zeros.
The revolution in the management of large data seems to be near. It is not clear where exactly this Holy Grail is located, but the quantum race does not wait and many areas are awaiting these findings, such as medicine or chemistry. Whether our words serve as clues to identify mental illness or intelligent sensors that detect pollution at the speed of light are closer than we have ever imagined. Like all expectations, we can only wait to see if they are fulfilled.