Thanks to Hollywood and sci-fi pop culture, artificial intelligence (AI) is on everybody’s minds and on everybody’s lips. It’s the doomsday red flag, the point at which potentially evil robots gain the power to self-govern and, inevitably, govern (and then oppress and/or destroy) the human race.
But while AI is the center of a good amount of study and development, quantum computing is quietly overtaking its competitor and becoming the true beacon of computing’s future. And while never a movie by Steven Spielberg, there was that 1980s TV series starring Scott Bakula.
We all know that AI is artificial intelligence. Fewer understand that quantum computing refers to tech based on the principles of quantum theory. Quantum theory seeks to explain the nature of matter and energy on the atomic/subatomic level, relying on quantum-mechanical phenomena like entanglement and superposition.
Think of the difference between classical computing and quantum computing this way: Classical computers are binary, it’s all 0s and 1s. Quantum computing uses a qubit, which is not limited to its value the way a 0 or a 1 necessarily is. So quantum computing is very well suited for a variety of tasks that are beyond the ability of classical computing. While some see quantum computing as a threat to classical computing, in fact, was designed and best functions as an aid to classical computing, to supplement their workload with more specialized performance options tailor-made for more challenging and expansive tasks.
Quantum computing is expected to be most useful in fields like finance, energy, aerospace, healthcare, and many others. Quantum computing may help society improve global financial markets, help us cure diseases, combat global climate change, detangle traffic and more. Quantum computing could speed up pharmaceutical development and discovery, and it may help track and explain climate change and its adverse effects.
Global figures for investment and patent applications illustrate the increases as recently as 2015. According to The Economist, Global non-classified national investments in quantum computing were roughly $1.75 billion. The European Union invested roughly $643 million. The U.S. was the top individual nation with investments calculating up to $421 million. China ($257 million), Germany ($140 million), Britain ($123 million) and Canada ($117 million) made up the rest of the top investors. Twenty countries in total have invested more than $10 million in quantum computing research.
A patent search enabled by Thomson Innovation indicates the U.S. was first in quantum computing-related patent applications with 295. Canada followed, (79), then Japan (78), Great Britain (36) and China (29) taking up the rear.
While AI remains more well-known, its less glamorous cousin quantum computing is an undeniable force on the cyber landscape. Nations, universities, giant tech firms, and startups are determined to explore quantum computing and its amazing range of possible applications. Industries like biomedical and financial and numerous others eager to apply and exploit that new and exciting type of computing.