By Sailesh Dhungana

With a growing need for more storage and better efficiency to perform various tasks, universities, research centers, and companies have started looking at a radically different way of computing. Quantum computing uses concepts from quantum mechanics such as superposition and entanglement. These quantum phenomena allow quantum computers to achieve exceptional performance compared to conventional computers.

Quantum Mechanics is the study of different properties displayed by particles in sub-atomic levels. Weird phenomena occur in such small scale, such as a single electron existing in two places at once or entangled electrons affecting each other instantaneously across a large amount of space. By using atoms, electrons, and other small particles and their mind-bending quantum properties, quantum computers can be made.

While conventional computers use transistors, quantum computers harness the power of atoms (or molecules) and their quantum properties. Instead of just storing data as bits (0’s and 1’s) quantum computer stores data as 0’s, 1’s or superposition of 0’s and 1’s. Due to the capability to store this superposition state, quantum computers have the potential to be extremely powerful even compared to today’s most powerful supercomputers. Quantum computers also utilize entanglement, another important quantum property of subatomic particles, to gain advantage over normal computers.

Quantum computing, however, is still in infancy. There is a lot of research going on in this field and the outcomes are just starting to be seen. In March 2000, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory announced the development of a 7-qubit quantum computer. A lot of other developments have happened in this field since then.

A Canadian startup company, D-Wave, has been leading the development of quantum computers. It claims that it developed the first functional quantum computer. Lockheed Martin installed the quantum computer developed by D-Wave. Google also bought a 512-qubit quantum computer called D-Wave Two. Google will be working with NASA to create an Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, which will have the capability to handle difficult Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning problems.

With a lot of research going on in this field, there is a good chance that silicon-based computers will be replaced by quantum ones. Nonetheless, we should not get too excited. It might take a decade or more for us to have our own personal quantum laptops.