During the last five years, quantum computing has received a great deal of press. Why?
Since the 1940s, though, we’ve had computers. Do real-world applications spark curiosity? Smarter computer systems? Improved speed and precision in pricing for banks and hedge funds? If quantum computers could be scaled up by a factor of a thousand, would it mean better pharmaceuticals?
At its core, our interest in quantum stems from the hope that it may one day help us tackle issues that are now intractable but are not intractable in principle but are just intractable given the state of existing technology.
We anticipate that quantum computers will eventually populate both the cloud and the edge. Most consumers won’t even realise they’re being used, but the value they provide will be felt by many.
“Quantum world” intrigues us
A large portion of this new kind of computing’s appeal, in my opinion, comes from the phrase “quantum.” The 1990s saw the premiere of Scott Bakula’s Quantum Leap, which may evoke memories for some of you. The first Ant-Man film starring Paul Rudd didn’t come out for another 25 years. The “quantum world” was first described to us in these fictions. Entirely fictitious, but entertaining all the same.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that phrases like “superposition,” “entanglement,” and “spooky action” catch people’s ears. Quantum mechanics, upon which quantum computing rests, is perhaps the most strange and fascinating field in physics, if not all of science. When the word “quantum” is spoken, people get curious and want to know more. Selling it is hardly unnecessary.
It would be beneficial if computing were the only application of quantum mechanics, but it has many other applications as well. Like you, for instance. The behaviour of subatomic particles including atoms, electrons, and photons are described by quantum mechanics. Much of your immediate environment is subject to quantum principles.
If you’ve ever hurt your knee or shoulder, medical professionals may have ordered an MRI to figure out what’s wrong. Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI) is a technique that uses high magnetic fields and radio waves to detect the energy emitted by hydrogen atoms. Fortunately, MRI can create high-resolution pictures of the regions of concern since the human body contains numerous hydrogen atoms in water and fat. Since the 1940s, when the work of Felix Bloch and others was applied to this problem, we know that this is a quantum process.
Please take note of my usage of the term “high-resolution.” Due to its focus on the microscopic, quantum research may provide us with exquisitely nuanced data and insights, provided we master it. It could be the most accurate gauge we have of some factors.
Massive shift in emphasis
Here’s another, which isn’t really quantum at first glance. During the era of wooden ships, it was difficult to establish a fixed position at sea. Because of the fixed nature of the stars and planets, determining latitude was relatively simple, but determining longitude was considerably more difficult. Keep in mind that on a globe, north and south correspond to the longitudinal axes, while east and west are represented by the latitudinal axes.
The term “dead reckoning” refers to a method of determining location and navigation. Say you were aware of your precise starting point. After then, you began going in a certain path, at a specific pace. Put another way, you were moving along at a certain rate when at sea. You may figure out where you are now after some time has passed.
We’ll suppose you kept going in the same direction for the sake of our easy model. Considering the wind drove you along, this premise is shaky at best. Using the compass, you may figure out your current location and where you want to go.
Acceleration and time elapsed were more difficult to calculate. A log on a rope was thrown overboard from the ship’s prow and the time it took to return to the stern was used as a measure of speed. Once you knew how long the ship was, you could figure out how fast it was going. Watching a log float by is a crude method of measuring, but monitoring precise time was also essential.
From Timepieces to Global Positioning Systems
In the 18th century, thanks to John Harrison’s invention of an accurate clock, mariners no longer had to risk running aground or becoming lost by erroneously calculating their location. The history of this “marine chronometer’s” creation is detailed in Dava Sobel’s excellent book, Longitude. It’s a tale of technology, sure, but also of intrigue, politics, and dodgy business practises.
Dead reckoning used time in two different ways: once to determine velocity, and once to determine the total amount of time that had transpired from the beginning of a certain leg of the journey. Tacking and jibing back and forth meant that every journey consisted of numerous individual legs.
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