Still confused about quantum computing? This may help

Michael Freedman, director of Microsoft Research's Station Q at UCSB.

If you’re still perplexed by what, exactly, quantum computing is, you’re not alone.

Something about computers without transistors that can deal with not just zeros and ones but something in between, or both. The gist is that today’s computers store all information as either a one or a zero. But in quantum computing,  there is the notion of a qubit which can be a one or a zero or both at once. Somehow that means that the computer can use and manipulate all combinations of those bits simultaneously.

I know. That didn’t help. So check out this interesting — if self-serving — Microsoft post detailing quantum computing research work at Microsoft Research’s Station Q facility at UC Santa Barbara, Calif. under Microsoft technical fellow Michael Freedman (pictured above).

The post’s author, Jennifer Warnick, said the qubits speed things up. A lot.

“Because of the bizarre properties of a quantum state, like superposition, a qubit can be a 1 or a 0 – or it can operate as both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. If one qubit, as both a 1 and a 0, can do two calculations at once, then two qubits can do four, and things get exponential pretty quickly.”

She likens classical computing to a linear, orderly process of elimination. Using a corn maze as an example, a traditional computer would go down each path until it hits a dead end, then double back and try the next route until it eventually solves the maze. It’ll get there but it could take a loooong time. Tick tock.

A quantum computer, on the other hand, would “unleash a pack of high-octane, well-trained Tribbles” to do the job in a seemingly chaotic, but actually more efficient manner.

Those little searchers would spread out in all directions at once and, at an exponential rate, find the best possible path. If quantum computing works as these theorists envision, it could solve tricky materials science, cryptography and other problems that would take traditional computers months or years, in minutes.

The race to quantum computing is heating up with Google, IBM,  Microsoft and startup D-Wave systems all in the mix so it’ll be helpful to be a bit more conversant about the technology.

This was a Cliff Notes version so read the whole post. And, you can also check out this accompanying Quantum Computing 101 video:


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