Why Quantum Computers Are the Key to Our Future

Eleni Diamanti speaks on stage at the Boma France Festival. Credit: Boma France

Eleni Diamanti speaks on stage at the Boma France Festival. Credit: Boma France

For the last half-century, Moore’s Law has been steady and reliable. Every two years, the number of transistors we can fit in a chip doubles, as does the speed of our technologies. Despite these advances, the cost of production continues to decline. This has allowed tech companies to create an industry that brings in more than $200 billion in annual revenue in the United States alone.

But we’re reaching a breaking point, and Moore’s Law is coming to an end.

Specifically, Moore’s Law, which was first articulated by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore in 1965, asserts that “the number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.” Transistors are a fundamental component of all electronics. They are the tiny electrical switches that drive our devices. As they get smaller, they get faster, and they consume less electricity to operate.

As a result of these technological advances, scientists have been able to create autonomous drones and pocket-sized devices that are more powerful than supercomputers that once took up entire rooms.

We are asking more and more computing power from devices that are actually reaching their physical limits.
— Eleni Diamanti

However, our current transistors are only 14 nanometers across. That’s just 14 times wider than DNA molecules. Ultimately, these transistors, and other electronic components, are so small that they’re beginning to bump up against fundamental physical barriers of their size. “We are asking more and more computing power from devices that are actually reaching their physical limits,” Eleni Diamanti, Deputy Director of the Paris Centre for Quantum Computing, notes.

In order to make the next-generation of computational devices, we’re going to need something new.

Fortunately, scientists already know what the solution to this problem is: Quantum computers. These technologies harness the power of quantum mechanics in order to remarkably increase the amount of available processing power. The secret to this power lies in the quantum computer’s ability to generate and manipulate quantum bits, or qubits.

To operate, today's computers rely on something known as bits, which are essentially a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing either 1s or 0s. All devices currently rely on these binary digits. Quantum computers’ qubits, on the other hand, are subatomic particles like electrons or photons that can represent a number of combinations of 1 and 0 at the same time. This allows them to process an immense number of potential outcomes simultaneously.

Additionally, in conventional computers, doubling the number of bits doubles the processing power. However, adding extra qubits to a quantum machine produces an exponential increase in its processing abilities. This means that, while a single qubit can concurrently perform two calculations, two qubits can perform four, three qubits can perform eight, and on and on. This exponentially increasing speed means that just thirty qubits can simultaneously perform more than one billion calculations.

You’ve likely heard that such quantum computers will eventually outstrip our most capable traditional computers and supercomputers — that quantum computers will be faster, smaller, and more efficient than any classical computer.

However, this view of quantum computers isn’t exactly correct. In fact, it misses the mark in a number of ways. Yet, in many ways, the devices will allow us to bring a number of sci-fi visions of reality to life. In this video, which was recorded at the Boma France Festival, Eleni Diamanti explains what we can actually expect from the quantum computing revolution — the technologies they will allow us to develop and the questions they will allow us to answer about our universe — and what we can do to help ensure this revolution benefits all of humanity.