The Rapidly Changing Tides of Quantum Computing


Art by Camille Xu ’24!

Jade Lee '24

Technology has come a long way, starting with the simplest stone tools used by our ancestors millions of years ago, to the vast, almost ceaseless sea of electronic advancements we have today. Computers, amongst such advancements, arguably, play an important role in shaping the world we live in today. Whether we use them for personal use, such as school work, or creating and solving algorithms, it’s clear that life would be very different without their existence. It’s a little unbelievable that just a few decades ago, computers weren’t as readily available nor capable like they are now. 


Now imagine the most powerful computer ever. They’re called quantum computers, and they’re nothing like normal computers. M,m,                           


Not only do they surpass the world’s most capable, conventional computers easily, they’re  capable of solving the most complex algorithms in mere milliseconds that such computers would take 30 trillion years to complete. [1] In simplest terms, quantum computing takes in the properties of quantum physics to calculate the outputs [2].


Two factors set quantum computing ahead of its classical counterparts: qubits and entanglement. Unlike regular computing, which utilizes bits, quantum computing utilizes quantum bits, or qubits, for short. Qubits behave much like regular bits, but they utilize the property of superposition. [3] While classical bits can only hold a position of 0 or 1, superposition allows the qubit to simultaneously be in two different states. Thus the number of computations that a quantum computer can take on would be 2^n, with n being the number of qubits utilized. For instance, if 20 qubits were used, a quantum computer could solve as many as 2^20 computations with a single step. With entanglement in hand, an ability quantum particles have to double the amount of qubits, formally called correlation, makes its computing process even more efficient. [4] 


Quantum mechanics is a relatively new concept, despite the fact that it serves to be one of the core principles of different science fields, such as chemistry and physics. Quantum computing itself can be traced back to the 1980s when Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin proposed the new concept. Despite its novelty, it seems like scientists are only advancing faster and faster. [5]


One of the most notable milestones achieved happened in 2019, when Google’s Sycamore managed to solve an algorithm in 200 seconds that would, according to Google, have the world’s best supercomputer take 10,000 years to complete. It utilized 53 qubits, although the processor itself had 54 qubits, with one not working for this specific algorithm. Because of this huge milestone, Google claimed they had reached “quantum supremacy” – which is achieved when a quantum device has successfully demonstrated its ability in solving algorithms not a regular computer cannot. This was met with some skepticism, but regardless, scientists and companies pushed on. [6]


This year, in October, China’s University of Science and Technology (USTC)’s Jiuzhang 2 was announced to compute 10 million times faster than Google’s Sycamore, utilizing 60 qubits. [7]  


Finally, recently, in November, IBM’s chip, the Eagle was announced to use 127 qubits, which is twice the number of its predecessor, the 65-qubit Hummingbird, which was released in 2020. It’s also over twice the size of Jiuzhang 2. [8]


So what does this mean for us? 


Quantum computers may not sound too practical for our use, especially since regular computers already play their roles in assisting us. However, as mentioned earlier, quantum computers are capable of tackling the most complex algorithms and problems that even a supercomputer wouldn’t be able to take on within a short period. Even if we may not necessarily need quantum computers in our daily lives, this is still a big deal for multiple scientific fields. 


As quantum computers can perform many computations in a short period of time, they are far more capable of searching through huge amounts of data than conventional computers. For instance, if a standard every-day computer was given the task to go through a million numbers to find a single, randomly given number, it would take an exceedingly long time to complete its task. Quantum computers, on the other hand, could complete this in a significantly shorter time frame. The ability to quickly go through data would be very helpful for researchers and data collectors.


Quantum computers can also create virtual models and experiments, such as quantum simulations or models of atom and particle behavior in abnormal conditions. Neither can successfully be conducted in real life nor with the use of a conventional computer. However, with quantum computers, these models and experiments that had once seemed impossible to perform are suddenly possible now. To scientists, this is absolutely monumental! [9] 


And although quantum computers may not sound as exciting as the newest iPad model, or Tony Stark’s A.I, J.A.R.V.I.S, the reality of what they can do, and what they will be able to do, is certainly very, very exciting. 


As more scientists and companies race ahead to create faster and more powerful quantum computers, this field of technology can only progress farther and farther.