By Sani Nahuche
The quantum computers can capitalize on the prowess of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks. In this way, quantum computing presents an alternative approach to traditional computing which is based on a memory made up of bits. In traditional computers, data is encoded into binary digits (bits), each of which assumes either of the definite states of 0 and 1. The computation process in traditional computers is carried out using electronic transistors and capacitors. Unlike it, however, quantum computing relies on quantum-mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement. Quantum computation uses quantum bits called qubits which maintains a sequence to represent a one, a zero or any quantum-superposition of those two qubit states.
In layman terms, today’s computers operate by manipulating bits that exist in either of the two states of zero or one. Quantum computers are not limited to two states, their ability to encode information into qubits which can exist in superposition. It means it can use symbols of 0 and 1 and all points in between.
Technically speaking, a quantum computer with n qubits can be represented in arbitrary superposition of different states simultaneously. This feature of quantum computation presents an edge over traditional computing that can only be in one of these at any one time.
Therefore, a quantum computer with the number of qubits equal to the bits of a classical computer is fundamentally different. The following example would help better shed light on the nature of difference between two computing systems. A traditional computing system requires storage of complex coefficients to represent the state of n-qubit system while state of classical n bit system can be represented with only n numbers. It points to the exponentially high information storage capacity of qubits than their traditional counterparts can do. In fact, the ability of quantum computers to hold multiple states simultaneously makes them potentially far powerful than today’s supercomputers.
Like traditional computers, quantum computers uses algorithm which is composed of fixed sequence of quantum logic gates. The problem is encoded by setting initial value of qubits and then measurement is made by decomposing the system of qubits each with value of zero or one into classical state. The end result, therefore, is at most n classical bits of information.
The ability of quantum computers to work on millions of computations simultaneously is known as parallelism. It comes from the superposition of qubits. In other words, quantum computers are capable of carrying out millions of computations at once while today’s computer can perform only one at a time. It is no surprise that a 30-qubit quantum computer contains processing power that a conventional computer can achieve by running at 10 teraflops (trillions of floating-point operations per second). Whereas the today’s typical computers run on a speed measured in gigaflops (billions of floating-point operations per second).
In coming days we can hope that quantum computers will replace silicon chips in a similar fashion as transistors replaced vacuum tubes. To date, the research to realize quantum bits based computation is in its infancy. And much of the research endeavoring to reach that goal can best be described as theoretical. The most advanced quantum computers can achieve only 16 qubits manipulation power which points that such efforts are far short of being used as practical applications. However, quantum computers have created a potential where one can expect that one day such computers can perform quickly and easily cutting the computation time required by conventional computers incredibly short.
Years of research and major breakthroughs in the field of mathematics, material sciences and computer sciences are shaping the advances to realize the quantum based computations. With their superfast processing power, these computers have potential to revolutionize by unleashing breakthroughs in several fields including materials and drug discovery, the optimization of complex systems, and artificial intelligence. But to transform quantum computing theory into reality, we need to revisit the information processing and machines that do it.
Why we need quantum computing?
Every day we observe and experience the benefits brought to us by classical computation. Today’s computers prove very handy such that life without computers is hard to imagine in this technical era of time history. We seek help and have entertain ourselves, we connect with other people all over the world, and we process huge amounts of data to address problems and maintain complex systems using the computational power of today’s computers.
However, there are issues and problems that are too large to be addressed by today’s computing systems. Beyond a certain size and complexity, today’s computers fail to provide computing power to sufficiently address such challenges. To acquire a computational power that grows exponentially as the system size grows, we need a new kind of computing.
How potentially it can revolutionize our lives?
With unprecedented computing power, the quantum computers will disrupt every industry. They will transform the way we do business, place security to safeguard our data, conduct research to fight diseases and invent new material, and deal with climate and natural catastrophes. As the efforts to create first commercially viable computer intensifies, here are few of the ways it will revolutionize our lives and the world:
Artificial intelligence: The artificial intelligence and quantum computers present a perfect fit. The information processing that requires improving machine learning ideally can be achieved from quantum computing. With gigantic power to crush and analyze large quantities of data, the quantum computing can provide artificial machines feedback essential to improve their performance. The quantum computers’ inherent superiority to analyze and provide feedback over the traditional computers will result in significant reduction in learning curve for artificial intelligent machines. It will allow ever wide expansion of artificial intelligence into other industries as well as become more intuitive and insightful.
Drug development: During a drug development process chemists are keen to evaluate the interaction between various chemical components and elements to assess the extent medicines are effective against the diseases. Given the volume and scope of such analysis, it is a time and labor intensive task. Quantum computers with their ability to run multiple analyses simultaneously can help chemists to determine viable options much quicker.
Weather forecasting and climate change: The introduction of quantum computers into the met forecasting system will considerably reduce the time involved and improve the accuracy of the weather predictions. By allowing meteorologists to analyze data at once, these computers would enable to them better predict when the bad weather will strike.
Traffic control: Effective traffic whether air or on ground depends upon the route optimization through efficient scheduling. Quantum computers would allow traffic controllers to use their routes optimally while avoiding traffic congestion. The fast processing capabilities of quantum computing can also help to optimize the supply chains, fleet operations and deliveries.
A double edge-sword for developing nations
The quantum computing represents a disruptive innovation which is going to shake up every filed of the life. A disruptive change with a potential to influence our lives so profoundly can go either way for a developing nation like Nigeria. How the advent of quantum computers acts as a double edge sword for developing countries, following lights shed light on it.
All developing nations including Nigeria have two options to deal with wave of transformation and change which would accompany with quantum computing. First is to sit into an armchair and wait and watch how things playing out. Second, mobilize whatever resources they have to develop knowledge and expertise in order to place a foot into the fast running train of quantum computing.
Do nothing and pay for it
It means doing nothing in face of an emerging technology which has an astronomical potential to change the things entirely the way we experience them today. Unfortunately, in case of most of developing nations their attitude to such technological disruptions is that of ‘It’s none of our business’. Despite the World Bank and other international development agencies’ repeated assertions that sustainable development is not possible without making investments into disruptive innovations, majority of the developing nations particularly in Africa failed to design effective policy initiatives to reap the benefits of such technological advancements. By their inaction governments in developing world not only let lucrative opportunities to go but they widen the development gap between them and the developing nations of the world. As the technological gap grows large, the flow of economic resources and wealth get accelerated from poor to rich nations.
Finding ways to be a part of the breakthrough
On the other hand, developing nations like Nigeria can better off by taking timely and effective initiatives. Through such initiatives they can truly capitalize on the significant technological breakthroughs. Among myriad of options, these nations can direct their policy initiatives particularly at two areas. First find ways to develop their human resources and infrastructure so that when a disruptive technological breakthrough such as quantum computers unleashes, they are not strangers to it. It would allow them have their due shares in the economic yields that may result from such innovations. Second initiative involves the capacity building of their institutes so that they can timely understand the applications and implications of the quantum computing phenomenon. By integrating the prowess of this data processing giant into their systems they would be in a better position to effectively address the challenges and issues their nations are facing.
Quantum computing and two chronic problems of the Africa
Africa is undoubtedly world’s poorest region with GDP six times below the average GDP of the world. The two major problems can be blamed for that dismal GDP performance of the region, namely: Unemployment and ineffective governance. The unemployment in African countries including Nigeria is rampant and those who are employed get only miniscule of compensations. According to World Bank investments in disruptive technologies can stimulate economic activities rooted in high-tech business ventures and can effectively help to bring the unemployment rate down. Therefore the unfolding of the quantum computing advancement offers governments in the Africa an entire new set of opportunities. The technology based business ventures not only trigger a new kind of economic activities but also help to improve the lives of the people through better products and services. Government can utilize the wealth which may result from such economic activities to address other social issues and challenges they are facing.
The second challenge particularly Nigeria is facing is that of an ineffective and corrupt governance system. Using the gigantic data processing power the government can build systems that are more transparent and allow greater accountability. Different policy initiatives can be better designed using unprecedented computing power of quantum computing. For example, Nigeria is facing with serious environmental and climate change issues. With the simultaneous analysis of the large data volume, government may be able to predict and visualize the effects of their various environment related policy initiatives. In this way, quantum computing may greatly assist to effectively mitigate the dangers arising from environment and climate change.
To summarize, quantum computing presents a disruptive innovation which has the potential to revolutionize the world in way never seen and experienced before. By carefully formulating an effective strategy, the governments in developing nations can close the wealth generation gap that exists between them and the developed countries. Failing to be a part of this unfolding technological breakthrough may result developing states to languish further behind and witness the transfer of their much needed economic resources and wealth to developed nations in the world.