Quantum technology has seen many breakthroughs in the past few years. Our society, always hungry for the next digital innovation, now sees a future migration from classical computers—where processors act on specific locations and functions on particular values of 0 or 1—to quantum-mechanical computers of the future.
Quantum computers take computing to where it has never been before. It enables further miniaturization, as per Moore’s Law, and computing at increasingly fast speeds.
But as grand as these innovations sound, how does that affect us, regular users of technology? The technology aims to assist humanity and make life better for us. How does quantum computing make our lives better?
Here are some benefits of quantum technology and how it is relevant to you:
1. Ultra-Precise Atomic Clocks and Excellent GPS Systems
Timekeeping has never been so reliable until now. Thanks to quantum computing, we now have the most precise clocks called atomic clocks, able to monitor the specific radiation frequency needed that make electrons jump between levels of energy.
Today’s quantum-logic clock only loses or gains a second every 3.7 billion years, unlike standard clocks that use regular oscillations of pendulums, quartz crystals, or other physical objects to produce the ‘ticks’ and ‘tocks’ that determine the time. The NIST strontium clock, for example, will be accurate for 5 billion years.
When you have such precise clocks, it improves GPS navigation, surveying, and telecommunications. GPS, or Global Positioning System, is a network of satellites each broadcasting the time. The GPS receivers in smartphones pick up the signal from multiple clocks and use different arrival times from different satellites to determine a user’s distance from each of those satellites.
Researchers’ next big project is to use entanglement successfully to enhance precision by 100 times as the current atomic clock. Entangled clocks can also create a worldwide network that would measure time independent of location.
Through quantum technology, Internet-connected smartphones can better find unfamiliar places. Smartphone navigation will become more reliable as GPS is improved. So, the next time your phone gets you from point A to point B accurately, that is thanks to quantum technology.
2. Electronic Appliances & LEDs
The next time you open an electronic appliance or light up the room with a switch, remember that you might be benefiting from quantum technology already. Quantum techniques are already being used in electrical appliances like toasters. The red glow every time you heat something in the toaster uses quantum physics. The heating parts that emit the red color and glow are the reasons how quantum physics came to be.
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), on the other hand, are light sources based on dual semiconductor layers that have electrons and holes within them.
Semiconductors work on the theory of quantum physics. The moment you connect an LED to a battery, the semiconductors meet and discharge energy in the form of bright light. This emission of light does not consume as much energy as your regular incandescent bulb, also a product of quantum physics just like the toaster. So, if you retrofitted your house with LED lighting already, you have quantum technology to thank again for those reduced electricity bills.
3. Microscopes, Lasers, and Scanners
Lasers are optical devices used in industries such as medicine, telecommunications, science and technology, and many others.
Its most famous use in medicine is the treatment of cancers and removing tumors, kidney stones, and the like, through laser technology. Laser eye surgeries are also becoming more commonplace. In telecommunications, it is being used in Fiber-optic systems that brought the internet and connectivity at a much faster rate to consumers. Quantum technology is also used in space communications, that emits monochromatic light through optical amplification, a quantum mechanics principle.
Speaking of optical amplification, quantum technology also improves microscopes to a higher degree. Researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan used a quantum technology known as differential interference contrast microscopy to build the world’s first entanglement-enhanced microscope.
The microscope provides powerful magnification as it emits two beams of photons at a substance, measuring the patterns of interference created by the reflected rays hitting both flat and uneven surfaces of an object. The Hokkaido research team were able to sharply and precisely carve “Q” that was separated only by 17 manometers above the background. Similar techniques could be used to improve interferon meters.
Astronomical use interferon meters to look for extra solar planets, investigate nearby stars, and to discover gravitational waves or spacetime ripples.
MRI Scans or Magnetic Resonance Imaging functions by flipping the nucleic spins in hydrogen atoms, an application of quantum physics and mechanics. It is due to quantum effects’ extreme sensitivity, which produces high-precision sensors and imaging tools.
It is used in different other sensors—gravity sensors, atomic clocks and imaging, rotation sensors, and magnetic sensors—which are used for various industrial, commercial, and military applications.
Computers work on the principles of quantum technology. The transistors within computers use basic electronic properties of Silicon in its semiconductors, which is a part of quantum mechanics technology.
The quest for building computers better and better has been a quest for experts since the technology was invented. Industry leaders raced to achieve “quantum supremacy,” which aims to produce quantum computers that can compute faster and more powerful than traditional computers.
In 2009, Google reached quantum supremacy when its quantum computer was able to solve an overly complex task in 200 seconds, which would have taken today’s supercomputer 100,000 years to solve.
IBM disputes Google’s claims, but experts support the results of Google’s comprehensive and heavily-funded research, out of which came the Sycamore quantum computer.
No matter who reached, quantum supremacy first will not matter if this technology is not brought to commercial and industrial use. A device with 49 qubits at least is needed to solve complex quantum algorithm problems, and so far, only Intel has tested a chip of this size.
Currently, NASA and Google collaborated to form the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab based on a D-Wave Two. The University of Bristol also linked their traditional quantum chips to the internet so that quantum coding can be learned through the web by anyone interested.
In quantum communications, the transmission of information and data requires both physical connections and quantum methods. Quantum techniques are used for packaging the information being transmitted that dramatically improves the efficiency and capacity of whatever communication channel used.
Applying quantum technology in telecommunications can make the process less resource-intensive. The method of photonics, which uses light particles and photons to carry data, are more accessible than another energy source. Fiber cables also weigh 40 times less than regular DSL cables used in broadband internet and telephone lines.
Quantum communication also uses a more excellent range of frequencies terahertz frequencies, much more efficient than the usual radio waves used today.
In the UK, the National Dark Fiber Infrastructure Service is a venue for academic researchers and a small number of commercial entities to test quantum communication. A research team from the University College London used the network to demonstrate that optical communications can transmit data at 1TB/s, equivalent to transmitting all the literary works of Shakespeare 100,000 times over for every second.
The implications of this are enormous. Data transmission, as we know it today, will even improve further. On-demand and real-time will have a whole new meaning, and lags in the system will also be avoided if the capacity to transmit data is less intensive but more efficient.
Cybersecurity experts are concerned with the disruptive qualities of quantum technology to cybersecurity when the technology unravels cybersecurity.
But cybersecurity experts need not fear. Quantum technology can be utilized to improve the encryption of data and systems for better security significantly. The risks of cyber eavesdroppers that can lead to compromised keys can be avoided with the unbreakable quantum key distribution (QKD).
In QKD, data containing the key is transmitted via randomly polarized photons. The photon is restricted to vibrate on a single plane—up and down, or left to right. The receiver can utilize polarized filters to decode the key and, coupled with a specific quantum algorithm, encrypt a message.
The result is an uncrackable code sent over normal communication channels. Any attempt to tamper with the transmission or eavesdrop will send alerts to the transmission source of a security breach. All this takes place in quantum-levels of precision and speed. So even if cybercriminals also use quantum technology to try and hack transmissions and systems, it is close to impossible.
Ultra-secure networks are already in use today, thanks to QKD. Companies like ID Quantique, BBN Technologies, and Toshiba use the technology. Switzerland provided ID Quantique products in 2007 to ensure tamper-proof voting in their country. A bank in Austria has also tried the first bank transfer via entangled QKD in 2004. Telefónica, a Spanish telecoms infrastructure provider, has demonstrated QKD on its fiber infrastructure, together with Huawei and their Munich-based research lab.
However, The QKD cannot work over vast distances yet. Currently, entangled photons can only be transmitted over a maximum range of about 141.62 km or 88 miles.
Conclusion: Quantum Technology will Continue to Disrupt Digital Innovations
Quantum technological advances are exciting, but the development of quantum computers for commercial release has a long way to go. Early versions like the D-Wave 2000Q are massive in size and cost and demands a super sensitive, pin-drop silence, and super cooled environments.
Since these environments are difficult to replicate on a commercial scale, the widespread use of this technology will still take years to happen. Unless developers can find a way to miniaturize the technology down to the consumer level, then the security risks will be easier to manage.
Cyber security experts have time to expand and elevate security protocols to quantum algorithm levels as well, to catch up with post-quantum cryptography. The end goal is to defend against cyber security vulnerabilities coming in the quantum era when this digital one takes backstage to newer innovations.
Today, we might be entering a new era of innovation driven by new computing technologies like cloud computing and quantum computing. Since technology will continue to evolve, we can all prepare for the future today.