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While quantum computing is still in the early phases, there have already been many innovations and breakthroughs. Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Honeywell, and Google have been investing heavily in the technology. 

Not sure what quantum computing is? You’re not alone. In very simple terms, quantum computers are super-fast computers capable of solving seemingly unsolvable problems. Quantum computers will make our current advanced technology look like something out of the Stone Age. That’s how big a leap quantum computing represents.

Quantum computing is similar to traditional computing, which relies on bits—that is, the 0’s and 1’s to encode information. Each bit is like an on/off switch – with 0 meaning "off" and 1 meaning "on."

But quantum computers don’t rely on bits; they use qubits. And qubits aren’t limited to being on or off. They could be both at the same time or somewhere in between. And the reason for this is the ability of quantum particles to exist in multiple states at the same time, known as “superposition”.

This allows quantum computers to look at many different variables at the same time, which means they can power through more scenarios and perform trillions of calculations in a much shorter space of time than even the fastest computers available today.

In quantum computing, quantum supremacy is the goal of demonstrating that a programmable quantum device can solve a problem that no classical computer can solve in any feasible amount of time. Reaching quantum supremacy is clearly an important milestone, yet we’re still a long way from commercially available quantum computers hitting the market. Right now, current quantum computing work is limited to labs and major tech players.

Most technology experts would admit they don’t yet fully understand how quantum computing will transform our world – they just know that it will. Here are just some of the ways in which quantum computers could be put to good use:

  • Strengthening cyber security: Quantum computers could change the landscape of data security by creating virtually unbreakable encryption
  • Accelerating artificial intelligence: Quantum computers could provide a massive boost for AI since they are designed to handle huge amounts of data, manage multiple datasets, and evolve algorithms to allow for better learning, reasoning and understanding.  
  • Reversing climate change: Quantum computing could lead to a novel plan to reverse the negative impacts of climate change, by helping find efficient ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. To do that, scientists require a better understanding of the carbon atom and how it interacts with other elements.

The US recently announced that it will spend $625 million over the next five years on centers to research artificial intelligence and quantum computing. An additional $340 million will be contributed by the private sector and academic institutions, bringing the total planned investment close to $1 billion, according to a release by the Department of Energy.

The money will go to establishing a dozen research institutes focused on artificial intelligence and quantum computing. "These institutes will be world-class hubs for accelerating American innovation and building the 21st century American workforce," said US Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios.

The US invests more than $500 million annually in AI research and is building on that effort to "advance American competitiveness," according to National Science Foundation director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

A Google official warned in January that in a technological race to the future, China could pour "enormous resources" into developing super-computers with quantum technology. US officials and scientists in July began laying the groundwork for a more secure "virtually unhackable" internet based on quantum computing technology.

During a presentation, Department of Energy officials issued a report laying out a strategy for the development of a national quantum internet, using laws of quantum mechanics to transmit information more securely than on existing networks.

The department is working with universities and industry researchers with the aim of creating a prototype within a decade. "The foundation of quantum networks rests on our ability to precisely synthesize and manipulate matter at the atomic scale, including the control of single photons," David Awschalom, a University of Chicago professor and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, said.

This is a huge deal: for the first time, researchers from academia, US national labs and industry will be working side by side aiming to speed up the fundamental quantum information science research. And more research should bring us closer to advanced quantum technologies and the ultimate goal of quantum information science, creating a quantum computer that can indefinitely compute without errors.

Not included in the US announcement were Google and Honeywell, which have claimed strides in quantum computing research. US manufacturing and technology group Honeywell earlier this year said it would bring to market "the world's most powerful quantum computer" aimed at tackling complex scientific and business challenges.

The company said it had achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing, which uses subatomic particles to speed up processing.  Honeywell said it hopes to address computing challenges that have been impractical to tackle with traditional computers.

“The beauty of quantum computing,” says Tony Uttley, President of Honeywell Quantum Solutions to Forbes, “is that once you reach a certain level of accuracy, every time you add a qubit you double the computational capacity. So as the quantum computer scales exponentially, you can scale your problem set exponentially.”

Uttley talks about three eras in the evolution of quantum computing. Today, we are in the emergent era—”you can start to prove what kind of things work, what kind of algorithms show the most promise.”

The next era Uttley calls classically impractical; running processes on a quantum computer that typically are not run on today’s computers because they take too long, consume too much power, and cost too much. “Crossing the threshold from emergent to classically impractical is not very far away,” he says, probably sometime in the next 18 to 24 months.

The last stage of the quantum evolution will be classically impossible—"you couldn’t in the timeframe of the universe do this computation on a classical best-performing supercomputer that you can on a quantum computer,” says Uttley.

He predicts that “for the foreseeable future we will see co-processing,” combining the power of today’s computers with the power of quantum computers.

Honeywell entered into partnerships with two quantum software and algorithm providers, Cambridge Quantum Computing and Zapata Computing to accelerate its efforts and find new ways to deploy quantum computing.

Honeywell worked with partners before revealing its quantum plans, according to chief executive Ilyas Khan of Cambridge Quantum Computing. Khan said Honeywell became an investor "after a period of very close working cooperation," and added: "It may well be one of the technology world's best kept secrets for over a generation."

The Honeywell announcement came after Google claimed last year to have achieved "quantum supremacy" by developing a machine outperforming the world fastest supercomputers. Google said its Sycamore solved a computing problem within 200 seconds which would have taken 10,000 years on a traditional computer.

IBM, which runs its own quantum computing program, protested this claim, stating that Google had massively underestimated the capacity of its supercomputers. Nonetheless, Google’s announcement was hailed as a significant milestone in the quantum computing journey.

Most experts agree that truly useful quantum computing is not likely to be a feature of everyday life for some time. And even when quantum computers are commercially available, we as individuals will not be lining up to buy one.

For most of the tasks we carry out, a traditional computer or smartphone will be all we need. But at an industry level, quantum computing is set to bring many exciting opportunities in the future.

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