The advent of computing and the phenomenal increase in computing power we have witnessed since the turn of the millenium have revolutionised every aspect of our modern lives. The ability to cram more and more processing power into smaller and smaller physical areas has allowed us to embed technology and computing power into pretty much everything that surrounds us in our daily lives. Moore’s Law, which was theorised in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, has proved prophetic in predicting the growth of processing power. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a silicon-based processor will double every two years or so. Taking into account the physical limitations of silicon-based micro-processors, the next logical step is harnessing power at an atomic level using quantum technology.
Quantum computing was first theorised in 1981 by Paul Benioff at the Argonne National Laboratory. Benioff conceptualised a quantum version of a Turing machine, which is what most digital computers today are based on. Turing machines, invented by physicist Alan Turing in the 1930s, are theoretical devices that accept input from read write devices in binary language and perform certain calculations or programs based on these instructions. Benioff envisioned a quantum version of this kind of device, which would work through binary (ie. 1 or 0) as well as a supersition of 0 and 1. Without going too far into advanced quantum physics, this means that while a Turing machine can only perform one calculation at a time, a quantum Turing machine could in theory perform more than one calculation at once. As a result it could potentially be millions of times more powerful than a normal silicon-based processor.
This all sounds great in theory, but in practice we are yet to see a working prototype which performs to this potential. In light of this, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board has performed a study on the current state of quantum technology and its applicability with current technology and developments. The study found that whilst quantum technology has the potential to have a major impact across all areas of computing, but in its current state the technology is not quite ready for application in real world scenarios. The main problem with practical applications was that although quantum technology has boundless theoretical potential, the possibility of actually reaching this potential in the near future is unclear. It is difficult for anyone to say exactly when, or even if, quantum technology would be able to reach its full potential.
The study looked at three areas that quantum technology could potentially be applied to: quantum communications, quantum sensing, and quantum computing. Although the focus was obviously on military applications, the Air Force study still provides an interesting insight into the current state of quantum computing and what we can expect to see in the years to come.