Tech talk has never been more prevalent in popular culture as it is today, and this trend is only going to move forward. Just a few years ago, keeping up with cutting edge tech topics was more of a specialist or enthusiast thing to do, but now, it’s a prerequisite in order to understand the conversation at the dinner table. Crypto, the blockchain, machine learning—so many sophisticated topics that seem to be taking over fast. Between all of these buzzwords, there is another term: quantum computing.
Quantum computing may sound like science fiction, and, in many ways, it still sort of is. This technology has been in the works and on the minds of scientists and enthusiasts alike for decades, and it seems that its arrival into a commercial and professional setting is sooner than what one might expect. All of this hype continues to leave one thing unanswered, however: what does any of this even mean?
What is Quantum Computing?
A fully in-depth understanding of quantum computing can’t exactly be achieved overnight, but a few intuitive paragraphs might just be enough to help you hold your own at the dinner table. Classical computers operate on structures called bits: the 1’s and 0’s you’ll see on any Matrix-type code animation. A bit works like a switch, it can be on or off (1 or 0), and putting many of these bits together is enough to run practically every piece of programmable tech we have at our disposal today. Simple yet powerful.
That vast computational power at our disposal, however, is not infinite. Imagine that, instead of a structure that could only read 0 or 1, your bit could read any linear combination of these two values—with a few more technical restrictions. This would not only give every single bit more capacity for information, it would give each bit infinitely more capacity. Add in some other properties described with quantum mechanics like entanglement, and you’ve got the basic concept of a quantum bit, or a qubit for short. This is the fundamental computational structure behind quantum computing.
The device you’re reading from depends on bits—and a lot of them. A single gigabyte contains 8,589,934,592 bits. How many gigabytes of RAM does your phone have? 4? 6? 8? More than billions of bits at your disposal. Imagine if all of those, or even a fraction of them, could extend their capacity for information to quantum levels. The results are baffling.
Why it Matters
Perhaps the most popular topic when it comes to quantum computing and related advances is encryption and cybernetic security.
Skipping over basic number theory and cryptography courses, most of our modern-day encryption depends on the simple fact that prime factorization is difficult. In fact, if you take extremely large numbers that factor into extremely large prime numbers, it becomes computationally infeasible to discover what those prime numbers are.
Any intro to programming student can write an algorithm that will theoretically find those numbers eventually, but even the most sophisticated techniques on the most powerful contemporary computers can take upwards of thousands of years to get the factorization right. The security behind your financial accounts, social media, business records, and practically everything else depends on this fact—and yet, a quantum computer could crack this code within minutes. That’s the sheer computational power behind quantum.
Don’t panic quite yet—the threats that quantum computing poses to our real-world security are problems that have been under contemplation for decades now, and things like quantum cryptography are already formulated as solutions. The point here is that, if quantum computing can turn thousands of years of calculations into mere minutes, what else can it do?
Applications in Business
Bringing quantum computing into the business world will mean that computation is done unfathomably faster, but calculating paychecks isn’t exactly in need of sci-fi level computational power, so where can it come in handy?
One set of computations relevant to businesses where computational power can be scarce comes in the form of forecasting, analysis, and pattern matching—or anything that can fit under the umbrella of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Many modern tools incorporate machine learning to achieve the best possible performance; dynamic pricing models, autonomous chat bots, and market research tools, for example; and just how effective these tools are depends entirely on computational power.
Machine learning can be boiled down to a very simple concept: looking at a bunch of examples and putting together what works. Add some math into the mix and the essence of machine learning is an algorithm that looks through millions of data points in order to extract the information of what works and what doesn’t. That’s what makes it such a powerful tool in things like market analysis and competition research, but also in learning how your customers will respond to different situations, hence the AI chat bots.
With the full force of quantum behind it, this technology will be able to run through millions and billions more data points, achieving levels of accuracy and precision that are simply not possible today. More importantly, anybody who begins to take advantage of this technology will be eclipsing the capabilities of anybody who gets left behind in the world of classical computing. While the widespread availability of this computational power is still years away, the natural question comes to mind: Is your business ready for quantum computing
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