Insights: The age of quantum computing
Now Reading
Insights: The rise of quantum computing

Insights: The rise of quantum computing

We still don’t know the true potential of quantum computing – and that is what makes it so exciting

Gulf Business
The age of quantum computing

For over two centuries, the laws of thermodynamics have guided our understanding of the physical world. Our understanding of the macro processes has been sufficient to explain the interplay of pressure, volume, and temperature, which has led to world-changing inventions such as the steam engine.

As we investigate the micro realm, these classical principles start to crumble. The quantum world is a bizarre one, in which the rules of the game are fundamentally altered in ways that defy our everyday intuition.

A scarcity of particles at this scale throws out the rulebook of statistical physics in which ways we still struggle to interpret, and we are left with a landscape as alien as it is captivating.

The task of physicists today is to build a comprehensive theory that lets us control these quantum systems with increasing precision. Only then can we know just how far-reaching the opportunities are for using this technology to solve our most pressing global challenges.

Realising potential

The monumental achievement of building a quantum computer highlights both how much we have achieved and still must learn. After all a quantum computer can also be seen as a thermodynamic system. Although these machines are rapidly becoming more powerful, more qubits don’t necessarily mean better performance, and the race to deliver a stable, error-corrected quantum computer is far from over.

There are multiple ways to address the same challenge, with a universal standard for quantum computing performance yet to emerge.

Nevertheless, we are undeniably on the cusp of the quantum computing era. Our situation today is reminiscent of the early days of classical computing, with its clunky vacuum tube machines. Then came the transistor in the 1950s, a revolutionary invention that miniaturised, stabilised, and supercharged computers, leading to an explosion in computational power.

Quantum computing is still waiting for its own “transistor moment” whatever that looks like in practice.

Whatever the timescale for this breakthrough, the potential is undoubtedly exhilarating. Just like the development of classical computing, we can only begin to imagine the profound changes it will bring once its full potential is unleashed.

Our lives are unimaginable without the countless devices that we use throughout our day. Similarly, the advent of quantum computing promises a similarly transformative leap.

While we often talk of applications like climate change modelling, vaccine development, and the invention of new materials, the true capabilities of quantum computers are still shrouded in mystery.

Much like large language models, whose potential wasn’t fully understood until they were used by millions of people, and will continue to evolve dramatically, the real-world implications of quantum advancements in fields like machine learning and artificial intelligence remain to be discovered.

This inherent uncertainty reflects the very nature of technological progress. For instance, who could have predicted the rise of social media influencers when cameras were first integrated into phones? This is a classic example of how there is no way to know just where a new technology will lead us.

Quantum systems and open access

As we delve deeper into understanding and manipulating quantum systems, making this technology accessible to everyone is crucial.

Quantum computing can help us find solutions to huge global challenges that affect millions of people, so we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past when access to groundbreaking inventions was restricted.

Democratisation must be a core principle when building these machines. But even more critical is education.

Access without knowledge is like having a powerful tool with no instructions. Educational institutions have a vital role to play in making learning materials widely available and empowering everyone to explore this exciting field.

That is exactly why I was so enthusiastic about participating in this year’s NYU Abu Dhabi Hackathon for Social Good. The annual event provides a unique platform for students from around the world to exchange ideas and tackle problems from diverse perspectives.

In first place this year was QGasBusters, who developed an idea to protect critical infrastructure by instantly detecting pipeline anomalies, and optimally allocating emergency resources. In second place, QMarjan worked on a plan to identify optimal spots to achieve the highest coral restoration with limited resources.

Tied for third place were aQua and Aman. Team aQua’s set out to identify how to remove harmful molecules from water supplies to make them drinkable, while team Aman aimed to aid civilians with efficient coordination of emergency services in times of crisis.

Who knows what other use cases could emerge if these technologies are open to millions more talented people around the world? This collaborative spirit is exactly what is needed to spark the next big breakthrough in quantum computing.

The writer is the executive director of the Quantum Center at ETH Zurich.

You might also like


Scroll To Top