A few months ago, at the turn of the decade, various journals identified the predictions for 2020 that we got “horribly wrong”. The notable among them were extended life spans, robot revolution, colonization of Mars, pills replacing food and embedded computing. Then there are predictions that are delayed but we can clearly see them coming true like substitution of fossil fuels by clean energy, China becoming a global power, absence of privacy, self-driving cars, catastrophes due to global warming and Boris Johnson getting UK out of EU.
The pundits are at it again, prolifically predicting 2050. Ironically, most of their predictions are squarely running into the constraints posed by classical computing. Ability to control the weather, hyper-individualized medicines, 3-D printed organs, revival of extinct species, search engines for the physical world and iron man suits are all constrained by the size of transistors used in classical computing chips, which are now becoming so small that further miniaturization will be stopped by quantum tunneling.
In 1965, Moore’s observation became a prediction and in turn “Moore’s Law” which stated that the number of transistors that can be packed into a given unit of space will double about every two years.
Experts now agree that computers are nearly reaching the physical limits of Moore’s Law at some point in the 2020s, and we will hit the physical barrier of miniaturization. In a 2005 interview, Moore himself admitted that his law “can’t continue forever, it is the nature of exponential functions,” he said, “they eventually hit a wall”. So, what is next?
The only answer to continued computing progress experts agree is quantum computing. Quantum Computing uses the ability of sub-atomic particles to exist in multiple states simultaneously until it is observed.
Unlike classical computers that can store the information in just two possibilities i.e. 1 or 0, quantum computing uses qubits that can exist in any superposition of these values. Quantum computer, in seconds, can solve problems which a classical computer would take thousands of years to crack.
Ideally, problems where the inputs and outputs are finite, but the possibilities are infinite are best solved through quantum computing. The application of this technology is enormous but just to cite a few, a quantum computer can help with the discovery of new molecules, optimize financial portfolios for different risk scenarios, crack RSA encryption keys, detect stealth aircrafts, search massive databases in a split second and truly enable artificial intelligence.
The investment in this field which is fast exceeding bets on Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Big Data and other investments in classical computing, shows how both organisations and nations are backing quantum computing. As we can see in the adjacent chart, last time when the investments were measured, India was nowhere in the scene, but with a billion-dollar commitment in the current budget, will soon join the big boys.
The concept is proven, investments are substantial, the use cases are infinite and benefits are remarkable, but all these were also true for space travel, robotics, and nuclear fusion. The question is, will quantum computers buck the trend and become a reality? In my view yes.
Why? Simply due to its centrality to a sustainable future. Unless we overcome classical computing limits, we will hurtle to the modern apocalypse projected as uncontrollable climate change, scarcity of water, disappearing coastlines due to melting icebergs, plastic poisoned water tables, and lifestyle disease pandemics.
Sustainable energy, environment-friendly transport, recyclable packaging, a host of current environmental travails and also new medicines require new materials or molecules that we are unable to discover quickly enough with classical computing.
History has shown that un-precedented crises have always created more innovations than routine challenges or systematic investments. Hence numerous countries and organizations rushing to develop this technology, both individually and collectively, have given us a 10x increase in quantum computing in little less than a decade.
Let’s also remember what the graph shows is only what is reported in public and not what has been achieved by defense or intelligence agencies that by definition will remain under wraps. Hence the time of this revolution is on us and I will neither be too ambitious nor foolish in saying that quantum computing fueled innovations will go mainstream within a decade.
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