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[Column] Quantum Computing Age to Come ... Big Blue IBM Seeking Opportunities for a New Leap

  • Friday, August 17, 2018, 2:19 pm
  • ACROFAN=Seunghee Shin
"I'm not happy with all the analyses that go with just the classical theory, because nature isn't classical, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you'd better make it quantum mechanical..."

At 'Physics of Computation Conference' in 1981, a physicist Richard P. Feynman first delivered the message that quantum computing is needed. Since then, after several decades of steady development and research, we are now in the process of defining quantum computing and developing algorithms. So, IT companies such as Microsoft, Google and IBM are developing a 50-qubit quantum computer and are working hard on research. When quantum computing is applied to various fields in the future, a number of things that the existing computers could not do will become possible.

Existing computers computed and processed information using a binary system of 'Bit' using 0 or 1. Quantum computers, however, use the principles of quantum physics, also called quantum mechanics. They use 'Qubit (a.k.a Quantum Bit)' which allows 'superstition' state of 0 and 1, such as 00, 01, 10, and 11. Since they exist in an 'entangled' state, once a change occurs in one qubit, the other entangled qubit can quickly process it. In this way, as quantum computers can simultaneously exist in multiple states and act on all the states, it becomes possible to do numerous calculations separately at the same time with only one processor.

Today, there are about 3 billion transistors in smartphones. To double the performance of this smartphone, about 6 billion transistors will be needed. On the other hand, the performance of quantum computers can be expressed as 'n square(s) of 2' with n qubit(s) because of the property of 'superstition' state. For example, if you want to double the performance of a device that has 16 qubits, you only need to add 1 qubit. Quantum computing is incomparably faster than computers using 0 and 1 bits. It will be possible to calculate the formula that humans calculate for hundreds of years within a few seconds.

▲ IBM has made it possible for anyone to experience Quantum Computing through IBM Q.
(Image source:

IBM has spent the past 100 years cultivating the foundations of IT and seeding it, and now it is changed to a completely different shape. Vacuum tubes, switches, punched cards, quantum computers and AI all exist in the history of IBM. Moreover, cutting out the history of x86 hardware that it had started and the shift from massive hardware- to technology-centered is also a specialness of IBM's history. Therefore, its history and journeys have a special meaning and need to be watched with interest.

IBM pointed out three areas as the possible application areas for quantum computing in the future. First, it is expected to be a field of Chemistry including material design, oil and gas, and drug discovery. In fact, IBM published the results of the simulation using quantum algorithms with chemistry in September 2017 in the international science journal, Nature. The second area is predicted to be Artifical Intelligence (AI), which is a key technology of the 4th industrial revolution, including classification, machine learning, and linear algebra. Lastly, the quantum computing will take effect in a field of Financial Services, especially in the sectors of portfolio optimization, scenario analysis and pricing.

Quantum computing's development phases include 'Quantum Foundations', which defines the basics of everything in quantum computing, 'Quantum Ready', which can develop algorithms and expand the sizes. And finally, 'Quantum Advantage' is a phase to commercialization and application to reality with quantum computing. Currently, IBM and also other IT companies researching quantum computing are at just beyond the middle of the 'Quantum Ready' phase. In fact, IBM expects quantum computing to be the mainstream in the next five years, and by 2020 it will be at the phase of 'Quantum Advantage'.

In preparation for 'Quantum Ready' phase, IBM launched the Quantum Computing Platform called IBM Q Experience in 2017, making it accessible to anyone including students and researchers. At first, only 5 qubits were available, but now, up to 16 qubits are available. Released with IBM Q Experience, the Quantum Information Science Kit (QISKit) is an open source quantum computing system for developers to help make today's quantum development process and research more active. IBM is working on a 100-qubit quantum computer with the goal of developing it by 2020. The 100-qubit quantum computer has the ability to simulate all the atoms in the universe.

▲ The development of quantum computing will reduce this entire data center to just a few racks.
(Image source: Samsung SDS)

The performance improvements of existing transistor-based computer systems so far are approaching a certain physical limitation. Semiconductor processes are already nearing the level of physically close to the size of electrons, and the interest in what will happen to the next generation of silicon-based semiconductors is growing. Accordingly, the quantum computing has long been anticipated as an innovative way to go beyond "physical barriers."

Given the impacts of quantum computing on us, it is likely to lead the changes beyond the cloud than what we see in the near future for various practical issues. This may be because the operation conditions of the initial system will be as tricky as a superconductor. On top of that, quantum computing is evaluated as a "double-edged sword". This is because it is expected to have the power to cause the collapse of the existing encryption system as well as the change in both the existing infrastructure and service structure.

In fact, in March 2017, the world's largest security conference, 'RSA 2017', discussed the threats and countermeasures of quantum computer's threats to the existing encryption technology. Especially, the National Security Agency (NSA) has predicted that quantum computing technology could destroy the current code order since 2016. Canadian research institute 'Global Risk Institute' also claimed that it is higher than 50 percent that the current encryption system is collapsed due to quantum computers in 2031.

For now, if quantum computing is commercialized and exploited, it is expected to pose a major threat to any industry based on IT technology. Worldwide web communications, Internet banking, and even cryptocurrency will be exposed to the crisis, and it will be time to change all the systems and structures. With these peculiarities in mind, quantum computing researchers will not only focus on the development of quantum computers but will also work in a direction of enhancing the quality of life after its commercialization. In other words, they should be focused on harmoniousness with other industries. That will be a major premise of 'Quantum Computing' for humans.