After decades of hard work in science and engineering, new quantum technologies are now coming within reach. They have the potential to radically change many technological fields, from imaging to computation, as well as to profoundly affect many societal issues such as health and security. That is why countries and industries around the world are scrambling to stay ahead of developments in the quantum field. So, what is this technology actually about?
At the scale of single atoms and electrons, many of the well-known laws of classical mechanics, which describe how things move and behave at the human scale, reach their limits. Instead, we have to turn to the laws of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics that deals with the behavior of matter and energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles.
Based on the (often counterintuitive) laws of quantum mechanics, quantum technologies work in a fundamentally different way than their ‘classical’ counterparts and, therefore, they have the potential to perform tasks that would otherwise be unattainable.
Whereas current classical computers and internet are based on bits that can take the value 0 or 1, quantum technologies are based on quantum bits (qubits) that can be in superposition states: it is like they are in ‘0’ and ‘1’ at the same time. Even more, they can be ‘entangled’: their fates are merged in such a way that a measurement of one instantaneously affects the other. By performing calculations based on such qubits, a quantum computer loosely speaking acts as a massive parallel device with an exponentially large number of computations taking place at the same time. This way, a quantum computer can solve problems that are out of reach of the best classical supercomputers we will ever build.
There is no doubt that quantum computers and the quantum internet will have a great impact on our world.
The vision of a quantum internet is to fundamentally enhance internet technology by enabling quantum communication between any two points on earth, via the quantum property of entanglement. A quantum internet may operate in parallel to the internet that we have today, and connect quantum processors in order to achieve capabilities that are impossible using only classical means, such as quantum encryption and distributed quantum computing.
There is no doubt that quantum computers and the quantum internet will have a great impact on our world. We have some ideas of what exciting prospects lie ahead, but, as with traditional computers and internet, we will likely see the full benefits only once the technologies become mature.