Quantum computing

Imagine this: you are struck by a life-threatening condition and have less than a month left to live. Your brain is digitized, neural pathways scanned and uploaded into quantum processors, where your mind will live on. This is what happens to Will Caster in Transcendence (2014). If it were possible, would you do it?
 
Here's a clip from the filmmakers on their concept of transcendence:
 
 
We’ll tell you upfront though: there is no quantum computer that can store your mind for you. At least not yet, and maybe not ever. Quantum computers may never be the best tools for simulating the warm, wet soup of the brain.
 
What's more, the challenge of building quantum computers is still keeping scientists and engineers busy at Google, Microsoft, IBM, and universities around the world. 
 
What we know is that if we do succeed in building a big quantum computer, that device will be better than today’s supercomputers at solving certain kinds of problems—cracking some types of encryption, revolutionising research by using simulations to solve hard problems, and making better use of our planet’s resources by consuming energy efficiently (in the long run). Google and NASA even have a Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab!
 
The emergence of quantum computing was one of the scientific inspirations for TRON: Legacy (2010), the sequel to the classic sci-fi film TRON (1982). The filmmakers got input from scientists to imagine a future where people could be teleported into a computer. Some physicists hold the complementary view that you can imagine our whole Universe to be a quantum computer, processing information.
 
Even at its current stage, quantum computing research has given us many indirect benefits, changing the way quantum mechanics is taught and giving us new perspectives on existing problems. And it’s safe to say we don’t yet know everything quantum computers could do. There should be applications beyond our wildest imaginations. 
 
Remember that when computers were first invented, some people thought the world would only ever need a few such machines. But odds are, you’re reading this article on a computer right now. Maybe not a clunky desktop, but your smartphone. Computers have become ubiquitous. 
 
We’ve come to expect our computers to get faster, smaller and cheaper with each generation. With computer manufacturers now saying they really can’t make the components inside silicon chips any tinier, that’s going to change. That’s another reason we’re looking for new technologies for a computing boost. 
 
So how does a quantum computer work? Let’s start with the basics.
 
Modern computers encode data in binary. The number system we are all familiar with is the decimal system. The name decimal indicates that the number system uses a base of ten, where there are ten digits (0-9). The binary system, however, uses a base of two, which means that there are only two digits. 
 
Why the binary system and not the decimal? This is because at fundamental level, a computer is a simply bunch of connected electrical components. And like a switch, these electrical components have only two states: 0 for off (no current flowing), 1 for on (current flowing). Check out this video to learn how these simple electrical components come together to form the devices you know and love:
 
 
The quantum computer isn’t restricted to 0s or 1s. Its quantum bits, or qubits, can exist in a superposition of 0 and 1.  Ever heard of Schrodinger’s Cat, kept alive and dead at the same time? When we say that something is in a superposition of two states, it means that that particular thing is in both states at once, until we measure it. That’s essentially what a quantum bit, or qubit, is.
 
Programs for quantum computers will take advantage of other features of qubits too, like their ability to interfere with each other and to get entangled. 
 
 
Progress towards a quantum computer that can out-perform a classical computer has picked up in 2016, with Google racing to be first.  Startups are getting in on the action too. One called Rigetti Computing aims to set up a cloud-based quantum computing service. Meanwhile, DWave Systems has announced a 2000-qubit ‘quantum annealer’—amidst ongoing debate about how much quantum benefit its machines actually offer. Academics also continue to explore paths to building bigger quantum computers. In March, for example, the University of Maryland in College Park unveiled a programmable five-qubit processing module.
 
So, have you been struck by inspiration for a sci-fi story yet? How do you imagine quantum computers will impact our lives? How about showing us in a five minute short? There's only one month left to the Quantum Shorts 2016 deadline  on 1 December! 
 
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