Quantum Recall (Quantum Computers in Plain Language)

I was in Silicon Valley, California during the midst of my summer startup accelerator YCombinator 2017. It was a typical mid-week early-evening and we had an event down in Mountain View. The sun was setting as hybrid sedans and electric cars pulled into parking spots on Pioneer Way. Tonight we would listen to a YCombinator alum running a company called Rigetti Computing. They were a company developing integrated circuits for quantum computers. From beginning to end, I was blown away learning about the potentials of quantum computing technology and how intelligent the founders were. The one fact that stuck with me at the end, was when the founder said there are only about 10 people in the world with the knowledge to actually build out a quantum computer. “The others are in research universities, Google, and IBM. And I’m the only one who is building a private company around this.”

A full year later, last week I was surfing Youtube and stumbled on a video discussing how close we are to quantum computers being adopted today. Even with the memory of hearing directly from the founder about how the technology works, we have a way of forgetting details, especially when highly technical subjects. I found that I had completely forgotten how to even describe a quantum computer. Fortunately for me, in the video Rigetti’s Director of Engineering described Quantum Computing in a very simple way to understand. It was not only a good refresher, but hearing it the second time with a very clear example made things very clear. 

Video narrates: In a head to head match between quantum computers and our classical computers today. Our laptops still dominate. At least for now

Rigetti Director of Engineering: “Today’s quantum computers are not big enough or high-performing enough actually do something better than a classical computer. / That’s going to change pretty soon. An example is basically impossible for a computer to anticipate what a molecule would do in the human body. This is something that the drug development industry has to spend *billions* of dollars figuring out by just guessing and checking. Nature doesn’t store information in zeros and ones the operating system of nature is quantum mechanics. If you want to *simulate* a quantum system you need something that can do it quantum mechanically and so that’s the the kind of problem that a quantum computer can solve. Quantum computers can analyze large, quantities of data and spot patterns quickly. “

Video narrates: “They could also tackle optimization problems for transportation and industry, advanced climate modeling, and boost artificial intelligence one day..”

The expert made it clear that quantum computers can analyze natural systems better than classical computers because nature doesn’t behave like classical physics. Nature is more precisely modeled by quantum mechanics. We can describe a ball thrown up and falling with classical physics. But the motion of a molecule in the body has a motion that we can’t describe accurately with those methods.  

Similar to when classic computers first came along, no one could have predicted where exactly we find ourselves today just a few decades later. Progress in an exponential way, with technologies such as mobile phones and laptops that transformed the way we communicate and access to information, and are a direct result of quantum computers. We can only imagine what the offshoot technologies for quantum computers will be. Though we don’t know when quantum computers will become ubiquitous in our lives, we do know it’s not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”.

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