Quantum Computers - Are they the future of computing?

June 15, 2020

Computers are electronic devices designed to store and process data. As time has passed, computers have made large strides in both the areas of storage capacity and processing power, but when will these strides reach their limits, and what will be the defining limitations? When it comes to complex computations, there is one specific technology that is helping to break past the limitations of classical computers – quantum computing.

What makes Quantum Computers Different?

At the most basic level, classical computers rely on bits of information to store data. These bits can be either a 0 or a 1 and are transmitted using electrical signals.

With quantum computers, there are not bits, but instead qubits. Qubits are physical atomic particles (atoms, photons, electrons, etc.) that are manipulated in order to store a data point. While bits can either be in a 0 or 1 state, qubits can exist at all the states between 0 and 1 at once, something known as superposition. With this new data type, quantum computers can use far less qubits when compared to bits, without sacrificing any processing power.

The Ups and Downs

Quantum computers’ use of qubits is what gives them their primary edge over other technologies. The ability to analyze a multitude of operations or situations at once allows quantum computers to outperform classical computers in tasks such as artificial intelligence, weather modeling, particle physics, and much more. Many companies are using this technology to innovate and optimize their operations.

One specific example for the use of quantum computing is in solving the “traveling salesman” problem. This requires the determination of the most efficient path between multiple cities that will end back at the starting point. Volkswagen is working on this exact problem, using quantum computing to determine the most efficient route for their sales team to take between cities.

While quantum computers provide a lot in terms of power, they still have their limitations. Quantum computers are extremely sensitive to their environment, making them dependent on specialty equipment that keeps them at a reasonable operating temperature and eliminates outside interference. Some quantum computers even require their internal temperature to remain colder than deep space, which is very difficult to achieve.

In addition to this, the use of qubits instead of bits makes current software and operating systems incompatible, but this should improve as quantum computers are further developed and adopted.

Looking Ahead

Based on the current state of quantum computers, it is easy to see their place in the future, but how far will they go?

It is clear that this technology has its place in industry, but will it ever find its place in the hands of customers? While it is an extremely powerful technology, it may not be suited for personal use, as modern computers are far more optimized for tasks like streaming video and running programs. In addition to this, modern computers do not have the same environmental restraints that quantum computers currently have on their operation.

So for now, it is easy to assume that we won’t be seeing someone walking around with a quantum computer in their bag as of yet, but it should be no surprise to see this technology grow in the businesses sector and open up new worlds of opportunity.


About the author

Michael Zanoff

Michael Zanoff is a freshman at Colorado School of Mines. His passion for the design process and robotics has led him to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He enjoys keeping up with new technology and learning about the world around him.

This article was contributed by a student member of Section's Engineering Education Program. Please report any errors or innaccuracies to enged@section.io.