To Infinty and Beyond: Quantum Computing

By Payal Mitra

It costs ten million USD a piece. Still largely a theoretical concept, which no one fully understands, it potentially holds the answer to some of humanity’s most complex and presently unsolvable problems.  Presenting, The Infinity Machine.

A recent article in the TIME magazine had me hooked by its article on quantum computers and the sheer power it promises to hold. The possibilities it unlocks is simply mind boggling. D Wave, the first entrepreneurship venture of its kind, after years of research, has started designing its take on these magic machines for commercial usage.  The fact that the likes of NASA, Google, Jeff Bezos among others are funding this project, speaks volumes.

Quantum computers use the concept of quantum mechanics which suggests phenomenon such as entanglement and superposition. In layman’s terms, unlike classical (normal) computers which use the bits 0 or 1 to store data and carry on all its operations, quantum computers use the property of a quantum system in which each quantum bit (qubit) is simultaneously present in both states 0 and 1. The implications of this are many. This means that where a classical computer can perform one operation/calculation; the quantum computer can perform two calculations simultaneously. Where a classical computer can perform two calculations, a quantum computer can perform four, and henceforth. Thus when a normal computer performs n calculations, a quantum computer can simultaneously exercise 2n states.

This exponential increase in computing capability can solve the most complex problems in a jiffy. Defence agencies like the NSA would probably gorge their eyes out to be able to master this technology as it would mean the end to cryptographic barriers. All classified documents are shielded under a massive layer of encryption which would take ordinary supercomputers years to crack. But a quantum computer could try out millions of combinations simultaneously and return a result in a fraction of that time.

Being able to try out all combinations almost instantaneously can help analyse the huge data collected by our telescopes and thus map out the entire universe and find distant planets. It could also help us avert mass destruction by natural disasters through precision weather forecasting.

It would help in several other optimisation problems like safer and faster travel, by deciphering the fastest route around the world from destination to destination with least hurdles. It could help find the answer to several medical diseases by assessing and analysing all kinds of data. It would boost GDP via hyper personalised shopping ads, by mapping out and interconnecting preferences of customers and could help analysts decode and predict stock market trends in a jiffy. It could help integrate entire nations or worldwide criminals in a single database, with increased efficiency and accessibility.

The list could go on. There are of course several snags too. Strict and difficult operating conditions are amongst the. Other than that, no one, even D Wave is sure yet about the actual practicality of such a machine. We may be close to the answer, or miles away from it. But undoubtedly, it has the power to entirely transform the way the world functions as of now.

Payal is a second year student at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. When she is not trying to make sense of endless equations and the most complex theories, she is an avid reader who likes to believe that she has a strong liking for the world outside physics too. She has a knack for finding problems, and fervently prays for a brainwave to their solutions someday. She hopes to help reflect change in society, wherever possible. For any comment, please email her at: