Quantum Computing: The Future of the Digital Age

We are approaching an era in which microchips and transistors are asymptotically approaching the upper limits of Moore’s Law . This has made computer industry experts wonder what innovators can do as both consumers and industries demand faster (and more efficient) computer hardware, to fulfill a myriad of needs. Enter quantum computing. Quantum computing has been the holy grail of modern computing for years. But why are scientists and engineers chasing the quantum dragon with such gusto?

 Quantum What?

First off, what is quantum computing? Well, let’s go over what analog computing (the way computers that you and I use work) is. All computing is done based on 1s and 0s – on or off (what we computer nerds call “bits”). Everything that we know has a computer in it uses these bits to calculate, display, and render all of our home PCs, tablets, smartphones, and much more. Quantum computers, however, take another step and are able to calculate things not based off of whether the state of something is 1 or 0 but both 1 and 0. Whoa. What? There are some heavy physics and math involved in the guts of that vague explanation but the gist of the matter is this: by being able to effectively represent both true and false values for all values in a system, quantum processors are able to do extremely complicated, pithy calculations in a fraction of the time it would take a normal, analog computer to do. This has incredibly far-reaching implications.

 So, what?

So, you’re wondering what this means for the everyday user of this new, awesome technology, right? One of the biggest things that quantum computing will be able to do is analyze very large and complex bodies of data very quickly. This could easily cut down travel times during commutes (as quantum computers will be able to make sophisticated analyses of traffic patterns, preventing air and ground traffic from suffering from bottlenecks and gridlocks). In addition, the vast amounts of data collected from telescopes that go into searching for and discovering distant planets would be no match for the power and speed of quantum calculations. However, it seems that quantum computing can easily be a double-edged sword.

Pandora’s Box

But what about how this could affect our daily lives? One of the fields that would be most affected by the quantum computing revolution would be the security of our digital information. Cryptographers the world over dread the coming of quantum computing because they say that all of the current encryption methods available now would not be able to withstand the raw computational power of a quantum computer. Quantum computers, by nature, seem to violate the laws that govern subatomic particles, making modern encryption algorithms like RSA very susceptible to the power and volatility of quantum processors or computers. The future of the digital age holds much promise but with the advent of quantum computing, it seems that like any technology, there are both pros and cons to quantum computing.

Image via Flickr by CyberHades