By Siva Om updated on 02/15/2013
I try and keep things in perspective. Recently, I read a great article about quantum computing in Forbes, which helped me do just that. The author, Greg Satell appropriately refers to quantum computing as “the next digital paradigm.” If you already know about quantum computers and everything they herald, this article will come as little surprise to you. If not, you’ll realize “advanced” technology is relative and very much a matter of perspective.
Satell points out emerging technologies such as Apple's Siri and IBM's supercomputer Watson stand to benefit greatly (and soon) from the continued development of quantum computing. He postulates that within 10 years, the processing power of our consumer-oriented computers will increase 100-fold and the storage capabilities will increase 1000-fold.
Fairly soon we can expect to have natural, human-like interfaces connecting to Watson-like processing power available for everyday use. Bandwidth in ten years will be about thirty times faster and we’ll be connected to low power sensors throughout our environment, so we’ll be able to access vast amounts of information about our physical environment almost instantly, everywhere we go. Sometime around 2030, we’ll be connected to strong artificial intelligence that will be indistinguishable from dealing with a human, except of course for the fact that it will link us to the sum total of the world’s knowledge in an instant.
Quantum computing is vastly different from our current model of computer technology. Simply put, our current system of computing utilizes a series of "bits," strings of zeros and ones that carry data on silicon transistors. These transistors continue to get smaller and smaller and soon will be measured on an atomic scale. As the size of computer microprocessors shrinks to the atomic level, quantum computing enters the picture with its ability to harness the power of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks. Quantum computing may still rely on a series of ones and zeros to an extent, but it also has the ability to operate in mysterious ways only a quantum physicist can comprehend, having to do with superposition and entaglement, which I won't try and go into here.
Quantum computing makes it possible to perform ridiculously complex tasks and computations that current computers simply can't handle. Imagine being able to access the potential of atoms and their cosmically weird mechanistics to create the next generation of computers. It sounds pretty fantastic — like something out of a science fiction novel — yet here we are.
Right now, many of the preeminent technology companies have a vested interest in both planned obsolescence as well as consumers’ semi-obsessiveness over the next generation phone or an iWatch. Perhaps our heavily consumer-based society has made us gullible. History should make us consider that possibility. Or perhaps we are just easy prey for the latest media mass-marketing campaign. These days we live in a culture where the latest thing is also the "greatest" thing, whether it’s a new pair of Air Jordan's, a reality show, or the most recent "must-have" release of a phone or tablet, which for the most part is just like the previous version.
For the record, I love Apple devices. But the hype surrounding Apple’s next incremental update billed as “the next big thing” is if anything, a red herring to divert our attention away from real change — quantum computers. Just wait, expand your horizons.
The technology we have is becoming old and outdated, yet is being doled out in such a way as to keep consumer demand as high as possible. Don't let yourself be fooled into thinking we have the latest advancements in technology in our hands right now, we don’t. Consider this: the devices in prototype form behind closed doors in Cupertino are about five years more advanced than the products we buy off the shelves. Imagine that!
If that isn't sobering enough, consider this: the leaps and bounds we will see in technology during the next 40 years will make the leaps and bounds we’ve made in the past 40 years seem as we’ve been advancing at a snail’s pace.
It wasn't even 10 years ago that a 1GB SD card cost hundreds of dollars, and now you can get them for less than $2 on Amazon. When the original iPod debuted with its paltry 5GB of storage, it fetched a hefty $400. Nowadays folks can hardly give them away. Likewise, when the first iPhone launched in 2007 it came with a price tag of $500 and now it too is practically obsolete. So recent history reminds us that what seems so advanced and wondrous today may not seem so in one year, much less three or 10!
We are on the cusp of true change, a major revolution in computing technology unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. Quantum computing is where it’s at, where it will be and where the focus of computer technology will rapidly shift.
In a nutshell, quantum computing utilizes technology that can store incomprehensibly large amounts of data in a microscopic, subatomic space. It can transmit MASSIVE amounts of information at speeds that make our current forms of data sharing seem archaic in comparison. We might as well all be using dial phones.
A quantum computer will run millions of circles around even the priciest supercomputer, much less MacBook Pro, without even so much as working up a sweat. Think this all sounds far fetched? Maybe, but there must be something to it with the CIA and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos investing millions into its research.
Learning more about the next generation of quantum computing keeps things in perspective. Once the capabilities of Quantum computing start to become available to us technology consumers (which could be within a decade according to Satell), our iPhone 5s and 6s and our fancy MacBook Airs simply won't seem so fancy, and the price structure will shift dramatically. Stay tuned, the future looks bright indeed!
Satell made the following points quite well:
- This new era won’t be based on solid-state physics — the science that led to transistors — but on quantum information, the strange rules that govern the sub-atomic world.
- New quantum computers have the potential to be millions of times faster than even our most powerful supercomputers today. Quantum cryptography will usher in a new era of super-secure transactions and quantum storage will achieve unparalleled density.
- Unlike the dawn of the computer age where we saw little benefit for a generation, this new technology will begin affecting our daily lives within a decade.
- If we go by current trends, processing efficiency will increase 100-fold and storage will increase 1000-fold within the next ten years. So we can expect 4 terabytes of memory to equivalent, relatively speaking, the 4 GB we get for free online today.
- Quantum computing represents an entirely new paradigm. The advancement we achieved in the last century will be dwarfed by the speed of change during this one.