The word “quantum” gained currency in the late 20th century as a descriptor signifying something so significant, it defied the use of common adjectives. For example, a “quantum leap” is a dramatic advancement (also an early ’90’s television series starring Scott Bakula).
Quantum computing is technology based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature of energy and matter on the atomic and subatomic level. It relies on the existence of mind-bending quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement.
Quantum computing’s purpose is to aid and extend the abilities of classical computing. Quantum computers will perform certain tasks much more efficiently than classical computers, providing us with a new tool for specific applications. Quantum computers will not replace their classical counterparts. In fact, quantum computers require classical computer to support their specialized abilities, such as systems optimization.
Quantum computers will be useful in advancing solutions to challenges in diverse fields such as energy, finance, healthcare, aerospace, among others. Their capabilities will help us cure diseases, improve global financial markets, detangle traffic, combat climate change, and more. For instance, quantum computing has the potential to speed up pharmaceutical discovery and development, and to improve the accuracy of the atmospheric models used to track and explain climate change and its adverse effects.
Going into 2015, non-classified national investments in quantum computing reflected an aggregate global spend of about $1.75 billion USD, according to The Economist. The European Union led with $643 million. The U.S. was the top individual nation with $421 million invested, followed by China ($257 million), Germany ($140 million), Britain ($123 million) and Canada ($117 million). Twenty countries have invested at least $10 million in quantum computing research.
At the same time, according to a patent search enabled by Thomson Innovation, the U.S. led in quantum computing-related patent applications with 295, followed by Canada (79), Japan (78), Great Britain (36), and China (29). The number of patent families related to quantum computing was projected to increase 430 percent by the end of 2017.
Currently, the IEEE Standards Association Quantum Computing Working Group is developing two standards. One is for quantum computing definitions and nomenclature so we can all speak the same language. The other addresses performance metrics and performance benchmarking to enable measurement of quantum computers’ performance against classical computers and, ultimately, each other.