Computers have become increasingly smaller, faster and more powerful in recent years. Thinking back to the first computer in the US, the ENIAC, which took up the space of several classrooms and contained 18,000 tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and 6,000 different switches, you soon appreciate the major leaps we've made.
The invention of the transistor in 1947 already enabled a significant reduction in computer size, but its overall weight was still several thousand pounds. This, in itself, wasn't a problem in those days. Back then only a few governments were using computers, so mobility wasn't an issue. IBM once even predicted that the world would only ever need a total of seven computers - although they did back down on that statement later.
Computers are still binary
Although computers have decreased in size and improved in mobility over the past 75 years, little has changed to the binary system that drives them. Today's computers still operate on the basis of this numbering scheme in which the value is either 1 or 0; these values are referred to as the bits.
A computer's memory can store data by storing the 0 or 1 value of the bits, meaning that, if you make a 1-bit modification to the computer's memory, it will return either a 0 or a 1, and a 2-bit modification would return combinations ranging from 0 0 to 1 1. Now imagine reducing these operations to the point that the laws of quantum mechanics apply. Just like electrons may display duality or quantum behavior, so can bits.
Quantum in computing
Applying this duality and quantum behavior forms part of Quantum Computing, in which the bits are referred to as Qubits. What makes the Qubit special is that its binary value isn't limited to being either 1 or 0, but that it can be both 1 and 0. So a Qubit modification can return both the 0 and the 1 in one value.
The quantum computer's force becomes particularly apparent when you start working with large data inputs. For instance, entering a regular 16-bit modification would require 65,536 modifications to display all values. Of course, the same entry into a Qubit modification would return all those values at once, which is a lot more efficient, of course.
Quantum computing is coming
We currently find ourselves standing at the cradle of this type of super computers. Both IBM and Google have announced that they are about to bring out their first Quantum Computers. IBM already went as far as to make the first Quantum Computing demo available via the cloud last March, while Google recently indicated that they, too, would be making a cloud solution available to researchers. These super computers will range from 17-Qubit computers to 49-Qubit computers. To illustrate: 49 Qubits equal 10 quadrillion bits. A computer with that level of capacity will be able to process calculations no computer has before ever been able to.
IBM is planning to apply this technology to its Watson machine learning and artificial intelligence. This will allow the system to adapt itself to new situations and events. Moreover, as the IT system gathers more data, it will be able to generate increasing numbers of algorithms through which the IT systems continues to learn more. Particularly in combination with the computing power of Quantum Computing, Watson will be smarter and more powerful than many may have ever deemed possible.
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