Introduction to Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is the use of quantum-mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computation. Computers that perform quantum computations are known as quantum computers. Quantum computers are believed to be able to solve certain computational problems, such as integer factorization (which underlies RSA encryption), substantially faster than classical computers. The study of quantum computing is a subfield of quantum information science.

Quantum computing began in the early 1980s, when physicist Paul Benioff proposed a quantum mechanical model of the Turing machine. Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin later suggested that a quantum computer had the potential to simulate things that a classical computer could not. In 1994, Peter Shor developed a quantum algorithm for factoring integers that had the potential to decrypt RSA-encrypted communications. Despite ongoing experimental progress since the late 1990s, most researchers believe that “fault-tolerant quantum computing [is] still a rather distant dream.” In recent years, investment into quantum computing research has increased in both the public and private sector. On 23 October 2019, Google AI, in partnership with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), published a paper in which they claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy. While some have disputed this claim, it is still a significant milestone in the history of quantum computing.

There are several models of quantum computing, including the quantum circuit model, quantum Turing machine, adiabatic quantum computer, one-way quantum computer, and various quantum cellular automata. The most widely used model is the quantum circuit. Quantum circuits are based on the quantum bit, or “qubit”, which is somewhat analogous to the bit in classical computation. Qubits can be in a 1 or 0 quantum state, or they can be in a superposition of the 1 and 0 states. However, when qubits are measured the result is always either a 0 or a 1; the probabilities of these two outcomes depend on the quantum state that the qubits were in immediately prior to the measurement. Computation is performed by manipulating qubits with quantum logic gates, which are somewhat analogous to classical logic gates.

There are currently two main approaches to physically implementing a quantum computer: analog and digital. Analog approaches are further divided into quantum simulation, quantum annealing, and adiabatic quantum computation. Digital quantum computers use quantum logic gates to do computation. Both approaches use quantum bits or qubits.[1]:2–13 There are currently a number of significant obstacles in the way of constructing useful quantum computers. In particular, it is difficult to maintain the quantum states of qubits as they are prone to quantum decoherence, and quantum computers require significant error correction as they are far more prone to errors than classical computers.

Any computational problem that can be solved by a classical computer can also, in principle, be solved by a quantum computer. Conversely, quantum computers obey the Church–Turing thesis; that is, any computational problem that can be solved by a quantum computer can also be solved by a classical computer. While this means that quantum computers provide no additional power over classical computers in terms of computability, they do in theory provide additional power when it comes to the time complexity of solving certain problems. Notably, quantum computers are believed to be able to quickly solve certain problems that no classical computer could solve in any feasible amount of time—a feat known as “quantum supremacy.” The study of the computational complexity of problems with respect to quantum computers is known as quantum complexity theory.

Besides factorization and discrete logarithms, quantum algorithms offering a more than polynomial speedup over the best known classical algorithm have been found for several problems, including the simulation of quantum physical processes from chemistry and solid state physics, the approximation of Jones polynomials, and solving Pell’s equation. No mathematical proof has been found that shows that an equally fast classical algorithm cannot be discovered, although this is considered unlikely. However, quantum computers offer polynomial speedup for some problems. The most well-known example of this is quantum database search, which can be solved by Grover’s algorithm using quadratically fewer queries to the database than that are required by classical algorithms. In this case, the advantage is not only provable but also optimal, it has been shown that Grover’s algorithm gives the maximal possible probability of finding the desired element for any number of oracle lookups. Several other examples of provable quantum speedups for query problems have subsequently been discovered, such as for finding collisions in two-to-one functions and evaluating NAND trees.

Problems that can be addressed with Grover’s algorithm have the following properties:

  1. There is no searchable structure in the collection of possible answers,
  2. The number of possible answers to check is the same as the number of inputs to the algorithm, and
  3. There exists a boolean function which evaluates each input and determines whether it is the correct answer

For problems with all these properties, the running time of Grover’s algorithm on a quantum computer will scale as the square root of the number of inputs (or elements in the database), as opposed to the linear scaling of classical algorithms. A general class of problems to which Grover’s algorithm can be applied is Boolean satisfiability problem. In this instance, the database through which the algorithm is iterating is that of all possible answers. An example (and possible) application of this is a password cracker that attempts to guess the password or secret key for an encrypted file or system. Symmetric ciphers such as Triple DES and AES are particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack. This application of quantum computing is a major interest of government agencies.

Since chemistry and nanotechnology rely on understanding quantum systems, and such systems are impossible to simulate in an efficient manner classically, many believe quantum simulation will be one of the most important applications of quantum computing. Quantum simulation could also be used to simulate the behavior of atoms and particles at unusual conditions such as the reactions inside a collider.

Quantum annealing or Adiabatic quantum computation relies on the adiabatic theorem to undertake calculations. A system is placed in the ground state for a simple Hamiltonian, which is slowly evolved to a more complicated Hamiltonian whose ground state represents the solution to the problem in question. The adiabatic theorem states that if the evolution is slow enough the system will stay in its ground state at all times through the process.

The Quantum algorithm for linear systems of equations, or “HHL Algorithm”, named after its discoverers Harrow, Hassidim, and Lloyd, is expected to provide speedup over classical counterparts.

The above is a brief about Quantum Computing. Watch this space for more updates on the latest trends in Technology.


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