Quantum Computing: Key Takeaways Web Summit 2018


December 7, 2018

Cesar ‐ Software Engineer

This November, I had the privilege of attending the Web Summit in Lisbon for the first time. It is considered the best technology conference on the planet. For me, it was a great experience to gain knowledge, to network, and to attend inspirational talks from speakers from all over the world.

The Web Summit took place at the Altice Arena, where 70,000 attendees from over 160 countries were present. The Summit consisted of 25 different tracks, ranging from Technical to Marketing tracks, and from Health to Finance tracks. Because of the wide range of tracks at the Summit, I was not able to attend all of them. However, I managed to get the most out of three:

  • Planet:tech
  • Deep tech
  • Full Stk

This article will cover one of the topics that took place at the Deep Tech track at the Web Summit: quantum computing. This talk was delivered by Talia Gershon, Senior Manager at IBM. In this talk, Talia cleared up common confusion about buzzwords such as ‘superposition’ and ‘entanglement’, that are usually used to explain quantum computing. In addition, she explained how quantum computing actually works.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing offers a new approach of processing information by using the properties of quantum physics. Quantum computing could potentially solve the world’s most difficult computing challenges.

What does this mean? Well, in traditional computing, a bit is a single piece of information that can hold a single binary value: 0 or 1, just like a coin with heads or tails.

Euro coins head and tail copy

Quantum computing uses quantum bits (or qubits), and they can hold both values at the same time - a phenomenon known as superposition.

Think of this as a spinning coin; the value is known only after it has been measured.

spinning coin

Quantum computers can superposition multiple qubits to play with different possible paths while performing calculations. If they do it correctly, the incorrect paths are ruled out, leaving only the correct ones.

This allows them to find solutions much faster than a traditional computer.

Another property in quantum superposition that’s important in quantum computing is entanglement. When qubits interact with each other, they retain a connection, after which they can then be entangled in pairs.

Entanglement allows qubits to interact with each other regardless of their proximity, as long as they remain isolated. Qubits that are entangled remain in a superposition until they’re measured. However, once the value of one of these is known, the value of the other can be assumed to be the opposite value of the qubit that was measured.

Now, because qubits are very difficult to handle and the quantum effects that they must control are fragile, they must be protected and operated at extremely cold temperatures. I’m talking about mere fractions of a degree above absolute zero.

a quantum computer

What kind of problems can we solve with Quantum Computers?

In Machine Learning: Quantum Computers could potentially improve machine learning algorithms by helping them pick more complex tasks using far fewer examples typically used to train AI systems.

In Medicine: Conventional computers are unable to accurately simulate how atoms behave during chemical reactions because that behaviour is driven by quantum physics. Here’s where quantum computers shine!

Quantum computing will allow researchers to simulate and model molecular structures as well as chemical reactions. Additionally, it will enhance possibilities to design entirely new molecules for medical use.

Code Breaking: Quantum Computers are fit to solve a particular set of mathematical problems. For example, finding a very large prime number. Prime numbers are very important in cryptography. Because of this, quantum computers are well suited to crack most of the systems used today to keep information well protected.

Quantum computers everywhere

So there you go, hopefully this helped clear up Quantum Computing for you. Soon enough we’ll have quantum computers everywhere.

For those who want to get a little taste of what writing quantum programs feel like, hear this! At IBM, they created an open source Quantum Computing framework called qiskit. Qiskit (Quantum Information Science Kit) allows anyone to write their own quantum experiments and applications and test them in real quantum computers in the cloud, go check it out!

If you liked this blog, also check out this Web Summit blog about the intersection of music and tech.

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