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Quantum computing becoming a reality with massive implications

Mar 7

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Quantum computing is a way of performing calculations by using principles of physics to solve highly complex problems very quickly. Until recently, scientists mostly just talked about it in theory, and they didn’t fully understand its implications. Now, they are trying to find real uses for it, with institutions like Google offering a $5 million prize for practical applications.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explains that even though we don’t fully understand it, quantum computing could revolutionize how we process data, impacting many different areas.

Excerpted from Peter’s March 7 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

We’ve all been hearing sci-fi tales of quantum computing for decades now, but what will its impact actually look like and how soon can we expect it?

When we think of traditional semiconductor tech, there are physical size constraints which will eventually cause a plateau in processing capacity. Quantum computing operates at the atomic level, and a single qubit can theoretically hold more data than the largest supercomputer.

“Theoretically” is the key word in that sentence. While there are advanced quantum computers, practical applications are still limited by our understanding and command of quantum mechanics, intricate assembly, and the hefty maintenance required.

Scaling up quantum computing will take time, but the impact of this technology could revolutionize data processing and materials science.

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado at a chilly morning we’re taking another item from the ask Peter list. This is about quantum computing. How soon do I think it’s going to be here? And how do I think it’s going to change the industry? To explain that I need to talk about what quantum computing can do before I talk about what it can’t do. So the best way to do that is to compare it to how we do semiconductors currently. So the technology for semiconductors as we currently understand it is roughly a century old and rooted in the transistor, the idea you can have an electrical switch that can open or close, which gives you an on and then off position. And as you add more transistors, you add more individual units, or bits with on and off positions. So if you have one, you have two states, if you have two you have four states because one can be on one can be off, the other one can be on or off, if you have three, you get eight states, and on and on and on. And the technology since it first went into silicon is 50 years ago, now, it’s all been about fitting more and more transistors more and more bits onto a smaller and smaller item. And we have reached the point now that your typical laptop computer in terms of its processing capacity has a billion or 2 billion bits in it. And if you start including the memory, then the number goes up to 10 billion, even in some of the higher ends more than 100 billion. The problem is, is as we make these things smaller and smaller and smaller, they’re getting more and more difficult to manufacture. And we can see within a few years that will we will be approaching a hard physical limitation, where the individual transistors are approaching atomic size and what happens, you’re not going any smaller. So the concept of Moore’s law that the processing capacity in the memory capacity doubles every 18 to 24 months, we’re coming against a hard barrier there. There are other ways that computers can be improved with the heat management, for example, or maybe stacked laminates in your processing units instead of flat ones. But we’re still ultimately approaching the point where we can’t get much better than we are now. Now that’s an immediate that’s a decade from now, and not assumes a lot of other things go right. But there is a theoretical upper limit. And we can see it from here. That’s where quantum computing comes in. Instead of working at objects that are greater than the molecular level, it instead works that things are smaller. Now it comes down to the anatomy of an atom, you’ve got a nucleolus that has neutrons and protons. And then you have orbital shells that have electrons. And what a quantum computer does is it adjust holds and measures information in a quantum state of the electrons. Now electrons can be almost anywhere within their orbital shells, they can be moving in any direction within those shells, and they can be spinning within those shells. And each component of those is a potential bit of information. So if you have an infinite number of locations, an infinite number of velocities and an infinite number of rotations. In theory, one qubit quantum bit can hold more information than the world’s biggest supercomputer. And if you get a computer that has more than one qubit, then you’re talking about something that’s really special. The practical applications of this are endless. But a few things to keep in mind. Number one, we’re not that good at quantum mechanics yet. And so even if we’re capable of encoding the information, one of the basic principles of quantum mechanics is if you’re observing it, it’s changed. And in doing so it changes our perception of the data that has been stored, it’s still there. But until our understanding, our practical command of quantum mechanics improves, there’s some limitations here in how much we can do. So it’s nice to say that there’s infinite storage capacity of the practical application is limited by our understanding of quantum physics. Second, there is no way to manufacture these machines at present, they are basically handcrafted and no two are the same. No two even have similar pieces. So everything has to be assembled and very, very, very meticulously maintained day in day out. This is not the sort of thing you’re gonna put on the server farm, it’s certainly not the sort of thing you’re going to hold in your hand. And until our manufacturing processes can catch up to our understanding of quantum mechanics and quantum mechanics can catch up to what actually the system can do. This is something that is going to be in a research lab and very few other things. At the moment, I will grant you that the advanced quantum computers that have been crafted today and that manufactured crafted do hold up against our best supercomputers. But they can only be made one at a time. And so there’s always going to be the problem of scale. And once we solve the problem of scale, then we can start talking about the materials that are required to build them. We understand the restrictions of traditional semiconductors. We don’t yet understand the mechanical system reactions from the materials input point of view of quantum. And I can’t give you a timeframe for that, because we are pushing the boundaries of theoretical knowledge here. And it might just come to a crapper or it might be the next big thing we just don’t know yet. But it’s some fascinating technology that uses a branch of physics that until now has been pretty boring because it’s all been theoretical, but it is starting to bit by bit by bit, or qubit by qubit by qubit Ha, enter the real world. And if it works, even if it is just limited as assuming a supercomputer space, the implications for materials processing and data processing is just absolutely massive because these things will be able to imagine the future in a very short period of time, of course, that it’s up to us to build the future with that information, but you know, one miracle at a time. All right, take care.

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