The revolution is postponed: conventional computers will not soon make way for quantum
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The revolution is postponed: conventional computers will not soon make way for quantum

1 May , 13:40Technology
In a contrary to the forecasts, quantum computers will enter everyday life in twenty years only.

Victor Kuzovkov

About ten years ago, Steve Jobs announced the imminent death of the personal computers. And it was supported by many industry experts, journalists, and entrepreneurs with a lower rank. But a decade passed, and Steve Jobs himself did not, and personal computers are still more alive than all living things. True, some alarming trends for the desktop PC market are still evident: desktop PC sales have been falling for the whole decade, and now, compared to 2011, they are selling about 30% less.

That is, Jobs was not so wrong? It seems that there was some kind of rational grain in his statement. But the truth, as usual, turned out to be somewhere in the middle - the market simply transformed, the share of personal computers became somewhat smaller, but in many respects our desktop workstations are still unparalleled and are unlikely to completely go into oblivion.

But suddenly they started talking about another threat: according to some experts, in ten years the next generation of PCs, namely quantum computers, may appear on the market. And their superiority to the primitive will be so great that our current silicon favorites will quickly give up their positions and become an anachronism.

Quantum computers are a rather strange and obscure thing, like everything, however, which is connected with quanta. No wonder, after all, there is even the term “quantum entanglement”. Yes, it has a fairly accurate scientific value, but it usually seems to us that it determines all this direction of scientific thought: if it comes to something quantum, then everything is exactly confused and completely incomprehensible ...

It is enough for an ordinary person that quantum computers will be much more powerful than their predecessors. It is assumed that they will be able to solve problems in a matter of minutes, which today's supercomputers require months, or even years. And there are already potential consumers of such systems, which, as they say, are not worth the price: military, special services, scientists.

The advent of quantum computers promises a revolution in cryptography, that is, any current sophisticated cipher can be cracked, if not in minutes, then in a maximum of weeks. And this is one of the most important security issues, so the question is “do we need a quantum computer?” it’s not worth it at all: if we don’t want the secret codes of our military and special services to be easily hacked by foreign special services, we will have to willy-nilly get our own quantum computer. Moreover, it is obvious that the ciphers that were used earlier and are used now will still be hacked, and the current secrets will become known to those who are interested. But thanks to quantum computers, it will be possible to bring encryption to a new level, making at least the ciphers of the future unreadable.

This topic is important if only as an illustration of the fact that in the quantum race the leading world players cannot stop and lose. This is too serious. Therefore, we repeat, interest in this topic will be in any case, which means that there will be government investments, government orders, state programs, and the best minds of mankind will struggle to make qubits work for the benefit of man. And then, as it has already been many times in history, the commercial segment will also be tightened, and once something secret and inaccessible will become commonplace on every desktop.

So what is the superiority of a quantum computer over an ordinary one, with silicon transistors combined with processors? In fact, it is very difficult to understand, and yet we will try to illustrate the issue with the simplest analogies.

Information in a conventional computer is stored in so-called bits. That is, the basic cell of information can contain information in some opposite values - yes or no, plus or minus. Unlike bits, a quantum computer can operate with qubits. This is already a more complex cell of information, which can mean both “yes” and “no” at the same time, and some intermediate provisions, such as “maybe” and “very likely”.

Didn’t it become clearer? Well, let's remember the Morse code. There, as you remember, information is transmitted using only two operators - dots and dashes. Each letter has its own designation in this binary code, and often several dots and dashes are used to transmit just one letter. Accordingly, any word transmitted by Morse code turns into a rather long set of characters.

A regular computer works exactly the same principle, only the computer binary code uses the characters "zero" and "one." And all the processes taking place in the computer itself, as well as the message between the computers, takes place with the help of a peculiar “morse code” of millions and billions of zeros and ones in which words, numbers, punctuation marks and so on are encrypted. In order for information to be accessible not only to a narrow number of professionals who can read binary code, it is already processed by the means of the computer itself and given to us in a more familiar form - like text, or image, or video.

And in order to at least remotely understand what qubit is, let's imagine any of our passwords hidden by asterisks when typing. Each asterisk can hide one of the letters of the alphabet, moreover, in two registers, a number or some punctuation mark. In total, several dozens, or even hundreds, of options can be hidden under one asterisk in the password field. Accordingly, if your password has a dozen characters, then the password itself implies, roughly speaking, ten to the tenth degree of brute force options.

Of course, a qubit contains significantly fewer options, so it is potentially not as informative as an asterisk in the password field. But in comparison with the usual bit, its information content is very high.

There are, of course, other differences, and the differences are very significant, affecting, among other things, productivity, but let's probably limit ourselves to just this explanation so as not to go crazy with all this quantum entanglement. We only state that scientists are not so wrong, I have such high hopes for quantum computers ...

By the way, it must be said that quantum computers are gradually ceasing to be a purely theoretical speculative toy of scientists. So, last year, Google demonstrated its quantum processor, which in three and a half minutes completed the task that would have taken weeks for the most productive modern computer. And this visible, practical confirmation of the so-called quantum superiority clearly shows that scientists are right in their theoretical research. And besides, it is also clear that the most important step towards the development of industrial, not experimental, but quantum processors has been taken, and now this race cannot be stopped.

In this regard, it is very interesting how things are with this in Russia. Alas, we lost the race for silicon with a bang, literally at the same gate, and will it not happen that we lose the quantum battle? This is not an idle question, because the consequences can be very deplorable, up to a partial loss of state defense capability.

But here, oddly enough, so far everything is not so bad as one might expect. Or everything is already not so bad, it depends on how to interpret the information ...

In 2010, at the initiative of Sergei Belousov, founder of the Acronis IT company, and Mikhail Lukin, a physicist, professor at Harvard University, the Russian Quantum Center was created in Russia. He began work in 2011, becoming one of the first Skolkovo residents. The RCC deals with a wide range of tasks related to the applied aspects of quantum physics: quantum optics, the creation of quantum materials, quantum informatics, superconductivity, and so on.

The center collaborates with leading scientific organizations of Russia, including leading universities of the country from St. Petersburg to Novosibirsk; serious joint projects with the RAS are planned. And the results were not long in coming: in 2015, the Center’s specialists, together with the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, MISiS and IFTT RAS, created the first superconducting qubit in Russia. And in 2017, the result of their activities was the creation of the world's first quantum blockchain.

Of course, other scientific centers of the country, either themselves or under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences, are conducting research in the field of quantum physics, including in the part related to quantum computing. And the results are quite impressive: according to people close to this process, in recent years, Russia has reduced at least a ten-year gap from recognized world leaders in the field of quantum physics. And ten years for a relatively new field of knowledge and research is a huge period.

At the same time, we still have to remember that a quantum computer is very specific, and is best suited for solving mathematical problems, calculations, probabilistic forecasts, etc. Adapting it to the consumer segment is very difficult: it’s not yet a fact that for computer games or other tasks popular with users, it will be better suited than current silicon PCs. In addition, it requires completely new computer science, which means the development of new operating systems, utility applications, graphics engines, and so on. And this in itself is a huge work that will begin only when the industry is ready to create the first samples of quantum computers for the mass segment. And this is at least a decade before the moment when an ordinary user ceases to feel the difference in comfort and convenience between an ordinary PC and a quantum one.

Therefore, we dare to say that until the death of the PC in its current form is still very far away. And if you suddenly thought about whether to buy a computer now, or wait a bit, immediately dig into a quantum one, leave doubts: if you are not going to wait and save twenty years, take the computer boldly. Normal, with a silicon chip. For your tasks, competitors will not appear for a long time...

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