The next computing revolution

Quantum computing is expected to unleash the next computing revolution, with perhaps even greater repercussions than the first.

When the first music on compact discs appeared in the early eighties, people claimed it sounded awkward. They could effectively hear the ones and zeroes their music was encoded into. In reality, the argument goes, music is something analogue, and there is a certain loss occurring by encoding it digitally. That loss is something audiophiles pretend they can hear.

And they may be right, though algorithms for encoding music have become better over time, and inevitably there is also a loss going on with analogue media, like the vinyl record. But what we are dealing with here is the fundamental schism between the analogue and the digital world. In the former, there is more than just ones and zeroes – namely everything in between.

That’s where quantum computing comes in. It replaces the bit – the binary unit that can be either one or zero – with the qubit, the quantum bit, that can be both at the same time, and also everything in between. In a way, quantum computing is closer to reality than classical digital computing. Depending on our definition of reality, of course.

Quantum computing will redefine our world

The digital revolution tried to impose a digital definition of reality, a reality defined by bits. Our systems are governed by bits and everything that can be build upon bits. So far, this project has been incredibly successful. It has redefined our world, our societies, our economies and all the other systems we rely on.

Quantum computing may well do it again, and at another scale.

The funny thing is that quantum reality is itself an awkward entity with a lot of counterintuitive features. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is perhaps only the best known of them. So if and when an upcoming quantum revolution will take over, the result may be even weirder than the digital revolution.

The promise of quantum computing is manifold. It is intended to solve all kinds of problems that cannot be solved by digital computing in a finite amount of time, paving the way to innovation in medicine, transportation, or computer security, for example.

Ordinary computers think in certainties, digitizing every aspect of the world to well-defined numbers. Quantum computers probe all possibilities, constantly updating the probabilities of multiple scenarios.

The quantum revolution might happen faster

Quantum computers probably won’t replace digital computers, but rather leash off another computing revolution with possibly even greater repercussions. It still has a long way to go, since quantum computing is now where digital computing was back in the fifties or sixties. But it might happen faster, since the preconditions are much better these days, with major digital players like IBM, Google and Microsoft heavily investing.

And besides the digital incumbents, there are also upstarts like D-Wave, founded in 1999, as well as others, which might end up leading the pack and winning the race, even if only after a feared quantum winter. It is a fascinating technology, moving beyond the digital, binary logic that has dominated the world of the early 21st century.

Digital computing and binary logic fostered a binary, black-and-white, good-vs-evil world view and the resurgence of tribalism. Will quantum computing and quantum logic change that? It may be too early to judge, but it appears clear that quantum physics requires a new view of reality.

Given the vast realm of possibilities, should companies now heavily invest in quantum computing? Not so fast. Gartner has an excellent overview for CIOs. It concludes as follows:

It is time to learn more about quantum computing.

Though it’s heavy stuff and loaded with physics, it nonetheless is captivating. And mind-boggling.

Photo by Maxime VALCARCE on Unsplash