As I write this, there is an intense race among Google, IBM and a few other players to produce a quantum computer that can outperform the world’s fastest supercomputer and, more importantly, launch quantum computing toward commercial viability.
This means we are on the brink of one of the most important historic moments in civilization, and as parents I would encourage you to take a closer look. Quantum computing will transform most technologies and the way many things are done, particularly in your child’s era. This means that not only will our children have a very different life experience because of quantum technology, but they will also inherit a truly infinite field of opportunity.
Why is quantum computing so important? And what is a quantum computer?
Speed like you’ve never imagined.
Speed is a big part of it. Quantum computing is fast. Really, really fast. There’s much more to it, but let’s start with speed.
I see you yawning. Speed schmeed you’re saying. Faster and more powerful technologies are released every day. But hold on. This is a completely different kind of fast. And a much bigger deal than just making a faster processor.
Quantum computers run on qubits (yours runs on bits). Qubits scale exponentially. A 2-qubit machine does 4 calculations at once. A 3-qubit machine does 8. 10 quibits get you to 1,000 calculations and 30 qubits get you to 1 billion calculations. By the time you get to 300 qubits, you’ve got a computer that can do more calculations than there are atoms in the universe. And remember, it’s doing those calculations all at once.
Everywhere at once.
Your computer does one calculation at a time. That is a key feature that separates classical computing from quantum computing. The “multitasking” nature of quantum is what really gives it tremendous power.
The founder of D-Wave, the first quantum computer company, Eric Ladizinsky, brings it home with this hypothetical scenario:
Imagine that you only have five minutes to find an X written on a page of a book among the 50 million books in the Library of Congress.
If you are a regular computer, searching one page at a time, you will never find the X in that amount of time.
But, if you are a quantum computer, you have 50 million parallel realities (yep, parallel realities) and you can look at a different book in each of those realities all at once. So you are definitely going to find the X in under 5 minutes.
So in this scenario, a quantum computer splits you into 50 million versions of yourself to make the work quick and easy.
Remember what 300 qubits can do? More calculations than atoms in the universe? The latest quantum computer chip, Google’s Bristlecone, has 72 qubits. IBM was at 50 qubits just last year. So, we are seeing a pretty fast rate of evolution here. If we are already at 72, how long until we get to 300?
The world’s fastest computer, Sunway TaihuLight, does 93 quadrillion calculations per second. In the not too distant future, experts believe a commercially viable quantum computer will outperform Sunway. That is what Google’s marketing guys are calling “quantum supremacy”. I know. Sounds intense. But don’t get too distracted by that. It’s mostly marketing speak.
Bottom line, quantum computers will be able to complete calculations within seconds that would take today’s fastest computers thousands of years to calculate.
Biggest leap in civilization ever.
Experts say that quantum computing is a bigger leap forward from classical computing than from the abacus to a modern day supercomputer. That means that quantum computing represents a technological evolution comparable to one that took us 5,000 years!
One of my favorite tech bloggers, Jason Roell, says that “the difference between a classical computer and a quantum computer is not like the difference between an old car and a new one. Rather, it’s like the difference between a horse and a hawk: while one can run, the other can fly.”
And Roell’s comment is important. Because again, this isn’t just about speed. Quantum mechanics enables a computer to process and analyze quantities of data we have never been able to analyze with even our most powerful computers plus optimize solutions with an unprecedented level of accuracy and efficiency. Quantum could help us tackle serious and escalating problems like those related to climate, disease, and security, and it has the power to reveal so much more about space.
Ok. I believe we have established that quantum computers are game changers.
But what exactly makes quantum computing so powerful? Well, what’s behind it is really weird science that even quantum physicists cannot fully explain. Everyone is a bit mystified by quantum right now. Even the folks making the computers can’t fully explain what makes them work (or not).
I will not give you a tutorial on quantum mechanics here because there are zillions of articles and videos out there already. So, if you have an appetite to understand more, I’ve curated some of my favorites sources for you. Article links are down below, and videos are in my YouTube library.
I do encourage you to explore this further. Quantum mechanics is not only fascinating, but I believe it will form the basis of hundreds of innovations in our children’s lifetime, and it will require a completely different way of thinking about and seeing the world around us.
Of course, the more you know as a parent, the better you will be at making key educational decisions for your children and positioning them to capture life opportunities.
Look specifically to understand superposition, entanglement, and tunneling. But I’m warning you…diving into quantum science is like taking the red pill in The Matrix. Once you start seeing the subatomic world, there’s no turning back. See you on the other side!
Why should parents care about quantum?
So as a parent, why should you care about quantum computing? Because this field is still quite new. So much is not yet understood. That means the future is filled with opportunity for our children to jump in, explore and innovate.
Our children will grow up in a quantum world, but even the best educational institutions are going to struggle to keep up. If we want our children to be prepared to capitalize on this wildly new frontier, it is going to be up to us to get them ready.
The quantum field desperately needs more people. One of the major obstacles to the success of quantum computing is that we simply don’t have enough people who understand how to leverage it.
Quantum computing will need programmers and developers, plus people who can bridge classic computing to quantum, and people who can represent all the disciplines in quantum computing.
This need for quantum expertise is so critical that those leading quantum computing are giving away the training. IBM has an open source tool, Google launched Google Quantum Computing Playground. MIT offers a free online course (remember my post on MOOCs?).
And in addition to the opportunities quantum holds for our children, there is the fact that quantum computing (and quantum mechanics in general) will redefine life experiences for our children just as blockchain will redefine all of life’s big systems (see that post).
All future-relevant disciplines will be transformed by quantum computing.
Let’s look more closely at how quantum computing will define and redefine opportunities. Here are just a few things it will either improve or enable.
Climate change. Quantum will improve how we forecast and prepare for weather (especially devastating weather, which will become more and more common). It will also help us model and build environmental solutions to reverse global warming.
Space exploration. With quantum we can model space weather, simulate planetary atmospheres, mimic galactic collisions, simulate and invent hypersonic vehicles, and analyze large amounts of mission data.
Healthcare. The possibilities for quantum computing in this realm are truly awe inspiring. The speed and optimizing power of quantum means significant advances in chemistry (hint: quantum chemistry is going to be HUGE). Think not only having the ability to simulate all molecules (you might be surprised by how hard this really is and how rarely it’s been done), but we can actually create new molecules. This means we can create new drugs and cures. Plus it would enable us to sequence DNA and personalize medicine based on a person’s unique genetic makeup.
Traffic control. This may seem basic to you, but as the population continues to explode in growth, the traffic of all things and people will become increasingly important. Remember that we are not just talking about cars..we are talking about autonomous vehicles on the ground and in the sky (and beyond), some carrying people, some carrying things, some just gathering data. Quantum can not only handle that level of processing but bring better optimization, which is essential to traffic control.
Digital security. Quantum’s power and speed will help security analysts not just identify incidents but decide which ones represent real threat. But there’s more. Thanks to quantum encryption methods like key distribution, security walls could become impenetrable by even the most sophisticated hacker.
Web search. I know you’re probably thinking “Google is fast enough already.” But this is way bigger and deeper than speeding up your search for winter vacation spots. We will simply outpace our current search capability with the amount of data we are pumping into the internet.
We currently produce internet data equivalent to 250,000 Libraries of Congress…or the content of 5 million laptops..every day. And every single minute 3.2 billion global internet users are feeding it with more. In our children’s lifetime, the web will contain all human knowledge since the beginning of mankind (in all media formats), plus everything added every second of every day, including the expanding Internet of Things. That’s a lot of data. Plus, because quantum means better optimization, we could expect more accuracy faster. Quantum will explode the possibilities of Web 2.0 (the web our kids are growing up with versus what we grew up with).
Quantum computing and AI are a natural mashup and this combo will boost the impact of all the areas above. Everything AI does will be enhanced by speed, optimization and accuracy. This not only broadens the scope of what AI can do for us in every discipline but makes AI more reliable. Think about the importance of reliability when AI is applied to things like financial systems, autonomous vehicles and healthcare.
So, as you can see, quantum computing is pretty explosive.
I would strongly recommend that you follow some of the folks below to stay on top of quantum computing developments. They happen daily.
Quantum specific Twitter feeds:
General science/tech, but great sources for latest quantum news:
Singularity University’s YouTube channel featuring “Tech-X-Planations”
(recommend you search that term in YouTube to save time)
And as promised, below are some articles for you to browse on quantum mechanics, and below that, a few on quantum computing.
Videos are in my YouTube library. I think you’ll find the videos more helpful than the articles.
Quantum Mechanics (by PBS)