You may have heard of Quantum Physics, probably in the realms of Science Fiction. It is a 100 year old branch of Science known for its notoriously complicated rules and far reaching implications. You may be surprised to hear that the many science fiction applications of Quantum are now fast approaching reality. Specifically, it will soon have many practical applications in IT.
Perhaps the most exciting use of Quantum in IT is that of quantum computers where the science is used to build extremely powerful super computers. Classical computing uses bits to process information, every piece of information is binary, it can be either 0 or 1. Quantum computers allow bits (called qubits) to be 0 or 1 or 0 AND 1. This allows for processors to be built that are more powerful than classical by factors of 2. Whereas a normal computer may process 300 bits of information at once, a quantum computer can process 2300 bits of information at once.
To put this into perspective, that number is higher than the number of atoms in the entire universe. This theory is slowly gaining traction in the tech world and there are a number of companies now commercially releasing machines which have this kind of computational power. At the moment, there are only a few practical applications for computers with this kind of power; stock market modelling and medical research to name two.
What will it mean for me?
At the moment, not a great deal. Quantum computing is still very early days and there are only a few commercial quantum super computers out there. However, as this technology is improved and the price point inevitably drops there will be more and more applications for this.
One of the uses being touted at the moment is quantum cryptography; the use of quantum physics to create unbreakable encryption and hence data transfer. Indeed, the extra computational power afforded by quantum computers can theoretically be used to break conventional encryption.
As we move increasingly to Cloud based systems, having huge computational power in data centres will become more useful, and empower cloud system designers to move more (and larger) systems into data centres.
Video editing or 3D modelling in the cloud will be possible. Your average server will be a great deal more powerful, being able to provision a lot more services and users than it can currently.
The Future – a Quantum Internet
Perhaps the furthest away from commercial reality is the concept of quantum network and internet transfer. Using quantum entanglement, you can actually transfer data without physically transferring any particles between locations.
Quantum entanglement requires two light particles to be put in an ‘entangled’ state first, and then fibre optic cables are required to transfer one of them to the remote location. Once these are in place, you can actually transfer bytes of information between them without any physical transfer of data. The limitations of the speed at which you can do this are almost infinite and could completely revolutionise our world-wide internet infrastructure.
Applying the power of quantum physics to modern IT are slowly moving from the theoretical to the commercial. Quantum super computers are already used for huge computational tasks and it won’t be long until they’re common place in data centres. Whereas it may be some time until both quantum cryptography and quantum network transfer are commercially viable, the implications are mind boggling.
Maybe one day we’ll all be using quantum processors in our smart phones to access an infinitely fast and secure internet.