Future Watch: Life after Moore's Law

Future watch: Quantum computing

Quantum computing could bring about a significant change in the way data is processed, making possible computational feats with a speed and dexterity heretofore unknown. However, quantum computing will likely upset current security standards, and we probably won't see any business benefits until 2020 or beyondMoore's law, named after Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, states that the silicon-data density on a chip doubles every 18 months. Given this rate of advance, today's chip manufacturing techniques will exhaust their capabilities by the year 2020, when a transistor would become no larger than the size of an atom.

But where Moore's Law ends, quantum computing begins.

Quantum computing exploits the properties of atoms and their nuclei to create a different type of architecture through quantum physics - that subatomic netherworld where reality can be and cease to be in nearly the same instant.

Similar to a traditional computer's use of transistors for creating the digital ones and zeros that compose program instruction, quantum computers rely on a particle's traits, such as the direction of its spin, for creating a state. For example, when the spin is up, a particle could be read as "one", and when its spin is down, the particle would be read as "zero".

These quantum bits, or qubits as they're known, demonstrate additional properties that differentiate them from traditional computer bits.

Atoms and nuclei can exist in a state of superposition, where the values of one, zero, and the range in between can be represented concurrently. Furthermore, by entangling the spins of atoms, qubits can become wired together, enabling them to function as a collective whole.

This hybridisation shatters the limitations of binary logic, bringing about a nonlinear computational power that far surpasses the capabilities of the fastest supercomputers available today. This level of parallel processing and its potential speed enhancements are nearly mind-boggling.

Imagine huge arrays of data being processed, searched, and manipulated instantaneously, or every conceivable input being amassed in one fell swoop. Imagine, also, a computer capable of factoring a 400-digit number within months, rather than taking billions of years as conventional technology currently requires. Many of today's security codes would be vulnerable to such a computer.

But imagine is all we will do for some time to come.

Although the implications to computation and business are staggering, the problem with quantum computing is that it continues to remain elusive. Demanding extremely stringent testing conditions and copious exploits in experimentation, quantum computing has been relegated to just beyond the grasp of a modern-day Buck Rogers.

Milestones are being passed frequently, however, with notable advances coming recently from the labs of IBM and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The reality is that quantum computing is still a long way off to have any consequential effect on your future business strategy. But if we live long enough, we just might get to enjoy it.

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