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A Quantum Leap for Classical Computing


Quantum computing: the technology that could smash Moore's Law, allowing for unprecedented levels of computing power that could enable us to model highly complex processes – such as the functioning of the heart or brain – with relative ease, making it one of the most highly anticipated breakthroughs of the near future.

The goal is to harness the unique behavior of particles at the quantum scale. These “qubits,” with information stored in subatomic particles, can mimic transistor storage by existing in a state of “1” or “0,” (just like transistors,) as well as existing in a superposition of both states. As the number of qubits on a circuit increases, so does the number of possible states, resulting in an exponential increase in the amount of information contained within. To put that in perspective, a quantum computer with a mere hundred qubits would be capable of solving certain problems more quickly than the most powerful supercomputers today.

But, according to Chris Peikert, cryptographer and computing scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology, “There are quite vigorous debates about whether quantum computers will ever actually be built.” However, according to Natalie Wolchover of Simons Science News, even if this worst-case scenario comes to pass, the ideas and techniques fueling quantum research may help solve long-standing problems in classical computer science, mathematics and cryptography.

Most recently, quantum ideas have furthered data encryption schemes, developed a formula for the minimum length of error-correcting codes, and refuted an antiquated algorithm claiming to solve the traveling salesman problem, which seeks to determine the fastest route through multiple cities.

According to Oded Regev, a computer scientist working at New York University, the link between quantum computing theory and the solving classical computing problems is no coincidence, noting that “…there are so many instances when we 'think quantumly' and come up with a proof.”

This trend has led some researchers to change their viewpoint from regarding quantum computing as an obscure niche to a generalization of classical computing, while compelling others to brush up on their physics.

As researchers push the field of quantum computing forward, plenty of fingers will be crossed for a breakthrough. But even if their hopes are met with disappointment, researchers' efforts will likely yield even more interesting classical results.

Full story at Simons Foundation

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