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What Is Quantum Computing – Everything You Need to Know

Story Highlights
  • What is quantum computing?
  • Difference between regular and quantum computers
  • Quantum computers: Answers to everything?
  • The way of the future
  • Possible dangers
  • When did it all begin?

Have you ever heard of Elon Musk, the famous billionaire entrepreneur, creator of PayPal, investor, and more? The man used one of his companies (SpaceX) to send an electric car into orbit. And did I mention that his company, Tesla, made the car?

He is also working on getting humanity to Mars in the next few decades. And another one of his companies, The Boring Company, built a tunnel underneath the streets of L.A. to reduce traffic.

Most people would agree that Elon Musk is a genius and that his efforts for the greater good are praiseworthy. He is certainly making an effort to make this world a greener place, while also trying to reach other planets.

However, according to some reports, it appears that Musk is now taking a step back from SpaceX and Tesla to focus on quantum computing. The reports claim that he invested over $2 billion to start a new company called Quantum AI.

The visionary is well-known for coming up with strange ideas and turning them into successful and profitable realities. So, when people heard that his new interest is in quantum computers, no one questioned the news.

Now, it seems that the reports connecting Elon Musk and quantum computing were scams. I saw quite a few articles exposing the rumors, especially when it comes to Musk’s supposed association with the company Quantum AI. However, it is interesting that people were so prepared to believe the news because it is a perfect fit for Musk.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the basics, discuss what quantum computing is, and why is it so important.

Content Overview

What Is Quantum Computing?

To put it simply, quantum computers are an upgraded form of computers. Think of it this way — the smartphone on which you might be reading this right now is immensely stronger and more powerful than the world’s most powerful computer from 50 years ago.

In fact, some calculations claim that an iPhone 6 is around 120,000,000 times faster than any Apollo-era computer. Not to mention the fact that your phone fits in your pocket and those old computers took up an entire room.

Imagine how powerful classical computers could be in 50 years, then multiply that by a few hundred million, and you may be getting close to how strong and groundbreaking quantum computers could become.

And to say that quantum computers are an upgrade is not entirely correct, either. That’s because you cannot improve traditional computers to reach that level of power and capability.

Instead, we should consider a quantum computer to be a completely separate tool.

How Are Quantum Computers Better Than Regular Ones?

A classical computer — like the ones that nearly every household has these days — revolutionized the world a few decades ago. It has only become stronger since. However, if we look ‘under the hood,’ it is still nothing more than a complex calculator. We do all these amazing things with it, but it still only uses a sequence of bits to work.

Bits are values of 0 and 1, and they are used to represent two states. Basically, it is an on/off switch that allows computers to make decisions, analyze data, and make sense of it.

As our technology progresses, regular computers are no longer sufficient to do all the necessary calculations. That is why we need a computer that can multitask and solve more complex problems with ease.

We have already made switching and memory units of computers — transistors — extremely small. However, we have also discovered great potential among the subatomic particles. Down at the subatomic scale, things tend to behave in unpredictable ways and often exist in more than one state at a time. This is where quantum computers can shine.

How Would Quantum Computers Work?

Remember when we talked about bits — ones and zeros that regular computers use to operate? Well, quantum computers have their own versions of bits, called qubits

In order to truly understand the difference, try imagining a sphere, where bits only occupy two points — one at the north pole, and one at the south pole. Regular computers cannot access any other point on the sphere. On the other hand, quantum computers can use qubits to go anywhere they want. 

They can store colossal amounts of information, and they use a lot less energy to operate than classical computers. You might even say that the regular laws of physics do not apply to them.

Quantum computing can make computers a lot more efficient, capable, and economical when it comes to energy and such.

What Will the Future Be Like with Quantum Computing?

This is a very common question, but also one that has no clear answer as of yet, only speculation. The fact is that we still do not know the full potential of quantum computing. Perhaps it will give us answers to all our questions. Who knows?

What is known is that it will impact every industry out there. It will change the way we understand and interact with the world. It will bring an entirely new realm of physics, let us manipulate the weather, and maybe even completely revolutionize the rest of our technology, knowledge, healthcare, and even our very thoughts.

In truth, the speculations are endless, but for now — that is all they are. Everything mentioned so far makes quantum computing look like a miracle cure to every issue we had ever faced. Maybe it is, but there is no way of knowing until we actually invent it.

Of course, for all the positives that quantum computing can bring us, there are just as many negatives.

Regular computing brought cyber attacks, viruses, malware, and hackings. We have invented an entirely new way of making war, known as online warfare. If quantum computing is so much more advanced than regular computing, then the consequences of it falling into the wrong hands are that much greater.

Even the strongest modern security systems would not stand in its way, which makes it extremely dangerous.

The Potential Dangers of Quantum Computing

For all its benefits, quantum computing would annihilate modern-day security. It would be especially dangerous if a rogue group or nation obtain it first.

To give you some idea of how powerful quantum computing is, let’s take VPN encryption as an example.

Most good-quality VPNs use 256-bit AES encryption. This is a military-grade protocol that VPN services and security researchers claim has never been cracked. However, a quantum computer will be able to bypass it just like that, theoretically speaking, of course.

You see, 256-bit encryption has around 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269, 984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,936 possible combinations. But even if someone uses the world’s fastest supercomputer (Tianhe-2), it would still take millions of years to crack it.

Also, it would take hackers 6.4 quadrillion years to break the 2048-bit RSA private key.

However, some estimate that if you connect four quantum computers together, they would be able to make 4,722,366,482,869,645,213,696 guesses at once. This would allow them to break the encryption instantly.

Of course, we are likely still years and years away from that, but the possibility does seem terrifying.

No modern-day defense system can put up a fight against them, not passwords, encryption keys, nor anything else. That would leave everyone in the world exposed. Anyone can use a quantum computer and have access to all the encrypted data.

They’ll have the ability to break into any Bitcoin wallet, crack any wireless secured connection, and much, much more.

Of course, should such danger really appear, researchers would likely invent security measures using the same quantum technology. It is a very fascinating yet scary issue. For now, however, the danger is only theoretical.

“The goal of post-quantum cryptography (also called quantum-resistant cryptography) is to develop cryptographic systems that are secure against both quantum and classical computers and can interoperate with existing communications protocols and networks.”

US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The History of Quantum Computing

It seems that many big tech players are in a hurry to perfect quantum computing first. IBM is one of the major players working on developing it, and so is Microsoft. Google and other tech giants are probably in on it too.

However, for all their effort, a breakthrough seems unlikely, at least for the time being.

Research about quantum computing started almost 40 years ago in the 1980s by Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin. The two expressed the idea that quantum computers might be able to simulate things that classical computers could not.

The first major step towards achieving quantum computing after that came in 1994 when Peter Shor published an algorithm that would efficiently solve issues encountered in asymmetric cryptography. Such issues were previously considered too complex for regular computers to handle.

With a refreshed perspective and incentive, researchers and developers from all over the world started working on it.

There are two main approaches to physically implementing quantum computing — analog and digital.

The digital approach uses quantum logic gates to do the computation. The analog approach, however, is divided into a quantum simulation, adiabatic quantum computation, and quantum annealing.

The issue is extremely complex, and it will likely take a long time before anyone comes up with a working prototype. Once they do, however, we might be able to solve age-old issues. And maybe we can even make quantum computers cheap and available for everyone, in due time.

Final Thoughts

Quantum computing is a technology that has massive potential. It is still in its early stage, however, and it will take time until it becomes fully operational and available for everyone. Furthermore, no one can foretell its full potential yet, which means that everything about quantum computing is just speculation at this point.

It can bring a great positive change for humanity, but also just as many dangers, so threading carefully is the best way to go about it.

So, even if Elon Musk is not working on quantum computing personally, other great minds are. And its further development will undoubtedly change the world for the better if proper precautions are taken.

What did you make of this article? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Jonathan Beesly

Jonathan is the main author at He regularly publishes posts that aim to introduce better cyber-security practices to the masses.

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