Quantum Computers: Spooky or Spectacular?

computer programmingMany years ago while fishing on Lake Erie under a sunny sky, another guy on our boat noticed his hair was standing straight up on his head. It wasn’t long until everyone on the boat had the same phenomenon happening to them.  As everyone was laughing about that, we soon noticed something even more peculiar happening – our fishing lines were leaving our poles and going straight up in the air. At first we wondered if we had entered the twilight zone. Thankfully we hadn’t, but it was some spooky stuff happening. It turns out that quantum mechanics can be just as bizarre.

Just as we know fishing lines don’t go straight up into the air, we know it is not possible for two things to be in the same place at the same time. For example, today’s computers are actually very simple since everything they do is built from a series of bits that are either turned on or off.  However, let me explain that with quantum mechanics, particles can coexist in the same place. Quantum computers, instead of being made up of bits that are on or off, can be made of qubits that are both on and off at the same time, as well as any state in between.

For the most part, today’s computers fake us out into thinking they are doing many things at once. They get away with this trickery because computers are very, very fast. Quantum computers will be able to take advantage of being in different states at the same time to really do multiple things at one time. I foresee quantum computers taking advantage of that to revolutionize the computer industry. While quantum computers have been theoretical for decades, huge strides have been made the last few years and some scientists now think they may be as close as five years away.

So what does that mean? Simulations that now take hours or days could be completed much quicker. This means they could be built to take into account more considerations and give us better results. You may have noticed that weather forecasting has come a long way in the past decade. Quantum computers should improve forecasts even more. Many insurance carriers are adopting analytics as a way to better price their products, identify additional coverage that an insured may need, and so forth.  Quantum computers should improve analytics by being able to crunch more numbers quickly.

While I feel quantum computers will harness the spooky to our betterment, the eerie situation we found ourselves in on that boat was leading to our detriment. As we were puzzling over what was happening, we saw menacing clouds building up on the horizon and decided to head in. Luckily we left when we did because I found out later we were in an electrically charged area and there was a high likelihood that if we had stayed, we would have been struck by lightning from the approaching storm.

 

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