- You won’t believe how fast quantum computing will progress from here
- Will the data centers of the future be quantum-powered?
- I got the inside scoop on Google’s quantum computer test
Today, we’re going all-in on quantum computing. I have three highlights to share with you from my time this week at MIT.
Predictions have been made for decades about reaching the point of quantum supremacy. Most thought it was many years away. They were wrong. It happened just a few months ago.
In time, history will reflect 2019 as the year when “it” happened… the real turning point when quantum computers began outperforming supercomputers.
The developments in this space will only accelerate in 2020. Quantum computing and developing quantum-resistant encryption technology will be two of the hottest themes in technology for the next two years.
Companies and governments should be panicking right now… and putting plans in place to become quantum-resistant in order to protect their most sensitive data.
This was actually a topic of discussion from my recent video interview with Glenn Beck. He is one of the few people I have spoken to who has been aware of the sheer power and threat of quantum computers. If you haven’t had the chance to see the discussion, go here to view it.
It is freely available on YouTube and completely unscripted… just a great discussion on the biggest trends in technology. Glenn was a great host.
Now for our insights…
Moore’s Law applies to quantum computing…
One of the most impactful talks on quantum computing came from Alan Baratz, the chief product officer of a company called D-Wave.
D-Wave is taking a unique approach to quantum computing. Instead of pursuing a universal quantum computer, D-Wave is working on what’s called “quantum annealing.” Quantum annealing has its limits, but it is great at very specific applications.
According to Baratz, D-Wave’s quantum annealing system is great at solving optimization problems. An easy example would be a complex supply chain network. D-Wave’s quantum system could optimize it for efficiency.
Quantum annealing is also great at solving constraint satisfaction problems. This is for systems that have a number of constraints that must be met. Quantum annealing will find the best way for that system to operate while staying within the constraints.
And quantum annealing can be used for circuit fault diagnosis. If there’s a fault in an electronic circuit, it can find where it is.
Lastly, quantum annealing is great for machine learning related to probabilities. Machine learning is a form of AI that can analyze massive data sets and determine the best outcome.
D-Wave designed its quantum computer to tackle these valuable real-world applications. And D-Wave was the first company to make real-time access to quantum computing technology available to anyone in the cloud. It’s like Amazon Web Services for quantum computing.
By doing so, it means that access to quantum computing is not just limited to large companies or governments that have a lot of money to invest.
Baratz told us that the company is already on its fourth-generation quantum computer. It’s a 2,000-qubit system. For comparison, the quantum computer that Google used to claim quantum supremacy was only a 53-qubit system.
It is worth noting, however, that the comparison is not apples to apples.
D-Wave’s 2,000-qubit quantum annealer is not the same as Google’s 53-qubit superconducting quantum computer, which has the potential to become a universal quantum computer. But we can associate the increase in qubits with an increase in quantum computing power.
And D-Wave expects to have its fifth-generation quantum computer out by the middle of next year. It will be a 5,000-qubit system. That’s quite impressive.
And here’s the big insight…
Baratz told us, “We believe that we can continue to double the number of qubits every two years and lower the noise.”
In quantum computing, “noise” refers to errors in the system. The lower the noise, the more accurate the computer.
So this sounds just like Moore’s Law in classical computing. Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors in semiconductor integrated circuits doubles every 18–24 months. That, of course, increases computing power.
Moore’s Law is the reason we’ve enjoyed an explosion of computing performance the last few decades. It’s the reason the smartphone in your pocket is more powerful than all the computers used to send a man to the moon.
If Baratz is correct… if Moore’s Law applies to quantum computing, then that means quantum computers are coming much faster than most realize.
On the one hand, that’s incredibly exciting. And on the other hand, that means we had better get to work on making our encryption systems quantum-resistant. After all, a powerful enough quantum computer could crack military-grade encryption in a matter of seconds.
Other executives at the conference shared my concern about this. After speaking with them, I can tell you that there is a sharp sense of urgency to create encryption that is quantum-resistant. This is an incredible business opportunity for the cybersecurity industry.
Universal quantum computers will eradicate power consumption…
Another insightful talk came from Rob Schoelkopf, a cofounder of a company called Quantum Circuits (QCI).
QCI was spun out of Yale University. Most people don’t know this, but Yale had the first quantum computer all the way back in 2009. So QCI has been on the leading edge of quantum technology for a decade now.
Unlike D-Wave, QCI is working on a superconducting quantum computer. This has the potential to become a universal quantum computer. That means it could perform all the same tasks as a classical computer… except better and magnitudes faster.
Superconducting qubits operate very close to a temperature of absolute zero. That means they are colder than space. And that makes superconducting quantum systems extremely fast. They run about 1,000 times faster than other forms of quantum computers.
Here’s what is great about this approach: It uses the same manufacturing process as normal semiconductors. This allows quantum chips to be produced with existing manufacturing technology. This will eventually have strong cost benefits as the industry grows.
Now, here’s the big insight from Schoelkopf…
He said QCI’s quantum computer operates at only 10–20 kilowatts. For comparison, the largest supercomputer in the world, Summit, runs at 13 megawatts.
Doing the math, that means Summit gobbles up 650 times more power than QCI’s quantum computer.
And remember, Google has already shown that its quantum computer solved a problem in 200 seconds that would have taken Summit 10,000 years to solve. Yet quantum computers run on a fraction of the power. That has immense implications.
For instance, the world is dependent on data centers. That’s how we store and access amounts of data via the cloud. But these data centers require massive amounts of power. In fact, one estimate cites that data centers use 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) each year. For context, that’s more than the yearly energy consumption of Iran.
Then consider the power that large public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum need. It’s estimated that the Bitcoin network alone uses about 70 TWh annually. That’s more energy than Greece uses each year.
Imagine the dramatic reduction in power requirements if this computer processing was performed using quantum computing.
We can easily see how much less fossil fuel would be required to meet the world’s processing needs. And these quantum computing systems will take up a fraction of the space compared to the classical computing systems that we use today.
And we aren’t talking 50 years into the future here. If Moore’s Law applies to quantum computing, as D-Wave believes, we’re no more than 10 years away from this being a possibility.
The inside scoop on Google’s quantum computer…
And that brings me to a talk from Google’s Marissa Giustina.
She gave us the inside scoop on Google’s quantum computer. This was the quantum computer that solved a problem in 200 seconds that would have taken Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer 10,000 years to solve. That was the point at which we reached quantum supremacy.
We talked about how transformative this is back in September. And I had the chance to talk about the implications of quantum supremacy at our Legacy Research Investment Summit in sunny Carlsbad, California, just days after the news broke.
Well, Giustina told us that Google’s quantum computer was actually a 54-qubit system. But there was a problem with the packaging for the quantum computing chip that prevented one qubit from functioning.
Google knew about this problem, but it decided to run its tests anyway. It figured that since this was the very first try, there was no need to delay. That’s because the first prototype for any technology usually doesn’t work very well. Google figured it could fix the packaging and work on any other problems it found in the tests.
But the quantum computer worked on the first try, to the quantum team’s surprise. And with any tech, we usually see major improvements with future versions. So that means Google’s quantum computer is only going to get much better from here.
So let’s sum up what we know…
Quantum computing is a watershed moment in technology. It’s a “moon landing,” as Glenn Beck called it when I spoke to him on his podcast a couple of weeks ago. And this technology is expected to accelerate at the speed of Moore’s Law.
I’ll leave you with one final anecdote…
When I attended conferences on CRISPR genetic editing back in 2016, the industry was far too conservative. People believed we were a decade away from seeing results from CRISPR. I thought these people were nuts.
I saw the exponential growth in this technology then. I could see how much progress was being made each quarter that passed. And I knew that the problems that the scientists were working on were solvable.
I knew CRISPR would progress much faster than anybody expected. And as I’ve shown you in these pages, I was right. In just three years’ time, CRISPR has already cured two major genetically caused diseases, sickle cell and beta thalassemia.
I had the same feeling at this quantum computing conference that I did back in 2016. Only this time, developments in quantum computing will be even faster.
After all, with computing, there is no regulatory environment to worry about. Many in the industry are being far too conservative. Quantum computing is progressing exponentially. That will have ramifications, good and bad.
Most of the world won’t be ready. But my readers will.
Editor, The Bleeding Edge
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