Written by Elias Lehman
In Partnership with Quantum Computing at Berkeley
Welcome to The Quantum Insider’s Quantum 101. Here we address the world’s most fascinating quantum mechanical phenomena, the applications that are being made of these discoveries today, and what the future holds for quantum technology. In this chapter, we will skim the surface of the most popular technologies, keeping in mind their physical foundations, and looking to see what impact they might have on our lives in the near future.
Since the mid-20th century, quantum physics has arguably paved the way for many technologies we interact with daily, the computer being a prime example. The earliest advancements came with the discovery of the physical properties of semiconductors, like silicon, which led to the invention of the transistor in the early 1950s. Transistors are the technology responsible for bits, the unit of information in classic computers. Billions of transistors are at the core of all computer chips, like those in your cell phone, laptop, and other smart devices. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) like those on your computer screen, similar electroluminescent technology, such as digital cameras, and photovoltaic technologies like solar cells can be accredited to discovery in the field of quantum mechanics.
Quantum computing provides a possible solution for some critical and intractable problems in several industries. Unfortunately, the implementation of effective quantum computation has proven to be extremely difficult. Two primary challenges have emerged on the hardware side:
1. Qubits are fragile–small external contributions to the energy of a qubit, such as fluctuations in temperature or exposure to radiation, can corrupt its state. Because quantum algorithms often rely on the relationship, or entanglement, between multiple qubits, one errored qubit can ruin a computation. Error correction is the practice of reducing the effect of corrupted qubits.
2. For most real-world problems, millions, sometimes even billions, of high-quality qubits are expected to be required to provide a trustworthy solution. This sets the date for advantageous computations using quantum computers, sometimes called quantum supremacy or practical quantum advantage, potentially very far in the future.