(The Guardian) UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised last week the UK would “go big on quantum computing” by building a general-purpose quantum computer, and secure 50% of the global quantum computing market by 2040. The UK will need to get a move on though: big steps have been taken in the field this year by the technology superpowers of China and the US.
The UK’s strong university system – and long history of innovation, epitomised by Alan Turing in computing and Paul Dirac in quantum mechanics – gives the country some hope of achieving Johnson’s goal. IBM’s Bob Sutor says that for the UK and other countries ambitious in making advances in quantum computing, educations and skills are key – at university level and below, including schools. “The more people working on it, the faster we will get there.”
Work on quantum physics, however, has given us a new and more powerful way of processing information. “If you can use the principles of quantum physics to process information then you can do a range of types of calculations that you cannot do with normal computers,” says Peter Leek, a lecturer and quantum computing expert at Oxford University.
“If you compared a piece of memory in a normal computer, it is in a unique state of ones and zeroes, ordered in a specific way. In a quantum computer that memory can be simultaneously in all possible states of ones and zeroes,” says Leek. To really harness this power requires an “entanglement” of pairs of qubits: if you double the number of qubits the computing power increases exponentially.
Gambetta stresses that the practical applications of quantum computers are not there yet, but theoretically they could have exciting uses like helping design new chemicals, drugs and alloys. Quantum computing could result in a much more efficient representation of chemical compounds.
There are ways in which quantum computing could help combat global heating, too, says Gambetta, by more efficiently separating carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.