Quantum Supremacy


As 2020 finally comes to a close, many of us have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been longing for improvements in the pandemic relief efforts, like better tests or a viable vaccine. However, in our focus, we have missed some amazing innovations in technology. The MIT Technology Review has created a list of 10 technological breakthroughs in 2020 that will change the way our society functions. One of those breakthroughs is “Quantum Supremacy”.


Ever since the 1960s, the power of computers has been growing exponentially, as computers continue to get both smaller and more powerful. Despite that, this growth will soon reach its physical limits. Classical computers encode information through bits that have the value of 0 or 1. This is determined by transistors inside of a computer that are essentially tiny switches. If the flow of electrons is blocked by the transistor, the value is 0, otherwise, it has a value of 1. These transistors have grown so small that they are 14 nm big, which is 500 times smaller than a red blood cell, which is roughly the difference between a yardstick and the Empire State Building. 


As transistors continue to shrink, they will quickly reach the size of a few atoms, at which point the laws of physics change, and electrons would be free to effortlessly bypass the transistor through a process called quantum tunneling. Nevertheless, scientists and engineers have been able to utilize the laws that cause that same limitation by using the physics of the quantum realm. In doing so a new type of computer can be created: a quantum computer. In short, the secret of quantum computing is the Qubit. A classical computer can have bits, which can be 0 or 1, but a Qubit has a property called superposition. This means that a Qubit can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously and only chooses a definitive value when it is tested. What does this mean? A classical computer with 4 bits can have 16 different combinations out of which you can use just 1, but a quantum computer with 4 bits can be in all of those 16 possible combinations at the same time. This means a quantum computer has the capability of being exponentially times faster than a classical computer.


The field of quantum computing was first introduced in 1980 when it was then discovered that some computational problems could be solved quicker and more efficiently with quantum algorithms than with classical computers. Although, only now are we seeing a quantum computer that has surpassed the ability of a classical computer in a certain computational problem. This milestone was achieved 5-10 years earlier than expected by Google’s Sycamore quantum processor. Sycamore, with 53 Qubits, was able to determine a set of randomly distributed numbers in only 3 minutes and 20 seconds, while Google estimates it would take a classical computer 10,000 years to solve the same problem, an incredible 1.5 billion times longer. This milestone is called “Quantum Supremacy” and while it is a good proof concept and starting point, it will take at least another decade before they have progressed to where they can solve meaningful problems that even classical computers can’t even begin to handle.


Quantum computers are currently undergoing many innovations and advancements in order to revolutionize our technical understanding of the world. It may be decades before we see a quantum computer that is perfected to level a classical computer today is. On top of the difficulty involved in building them, quantum computers are only superior to conventional computers in some specific scenarios. Firstly, while a conventional computer searching a database may have to individually check every item in the database to find a match, this is no problem at all for quantum computers and they can sort through large databases at insane speeds. In fact, the amount of time it takes for a quantum computer to search a database is the square root of the time it would take a conventional computer to do so. This comes in handy when dealing with large amounts of data. For example, if there are 1,000,000 items in a database, a quantum computer could sort through all of them in the time it takes for a conventional computer to sort through 1,000 of them. Additionally, quantum computers excel at simulations. Quantum computers will be able to quickly create accurate simulations of molecules or quantum physics which would be near impossible for a conventional computer to predict quickly or accurately.


Quantum computers unlock the next step in human technological advancement. While quantum computers only excel in specific areas, these are some of the areas where classical computers fail the most. Using quantum computing people will be able to solve complicated problems and simulations much faster than any classical computer ever could and even solve problems that are impossible for classical computers. Where the quantum computers are truly promising, is the fields in which these simulations and calculations are needed. In pharmaceuticals, a quantum computer can be used to simulate and analyze molecules which will lead to better and more efficient drug development. This is a task that quantum computers are well suited for as they follow the same laws of quantum physics that the molecules they’re simulating do. Furthermore, quantum computing has the ability to create unhackable encryptions, as breaking the encryptions would require someone to break the laws of physics. Lastly, quantum computers may have the ability to perform a process called quantum teleportation. In short, quantum particles encoded with information in one location disappear and are exactly recreated in another location of any distance, though not immediately. This development may lead to technology resembling a quantum internet.


While we are not sure when or if we will ever see the true abilities of a quantum computer and it is still unclear whether quantum computers will be a niche tool that is limited to a few uses or if it will completely revolutionize our world, there is only one way to find out.



Ben Moldovsky

PA-TSA 2020-2021 Parliamentarian