Will you have your own Personal Quantum Computer (PqC) any time soon?

In 1947, Howard Aiken an American engineer predicted that only six computers would be needed to satisfy the computing needs of the United States. Today over  73% of US adults own a desktop/laptop computer and the number of computers in the world continues to increase. Since the first personal computer was introduced by IBM in 1981, over 2 billion computers have been shipped (Gartner Dataquest statistics).
Whilst computers have continued to improve at every level (memory, storage, compute power, price, size), the problems we face have also grown and become more complex. Current computers use electrical circuits as bits and store information as binary bits which are either 0 or 1 and calculations are performed based on an algorithm’s “instructions” which manipulate these 0s and 1s to transform an input to an output. This system works well but it has its limitation. When it comes to : (i) machine learning e.g. object detection or; (ii) optimisation  e.g identify the most efficient logistics and supply chains operation or; (iii) solving public-private key algorithm (cryptography), the traditional computers struggle

Quantum Computing is an attempt at physically encoding quantum physics. Quantum physics primarily emerged when researchers began to study the nature of matter and light.
Quantum computing relies on subatomic particles that can exist in more than one state at any time. Qubits can be 0 and 1 simultaneously therefore performing two sets of calculation at the same time— a principle referred to as a superposition. Another important principle of quantum computing, is entanglement which refers to the fact that qubits in a superposition can be correlated with each other; i.e. there is dependency between the 2 states (whether it is a 1 or a 0) . Using these two principles, qubits can act as more sophisticated switches, to allow quantum computers to outperform binary computers.
Google and Nasa, are not shying away from the new technology after spending USD 15,000,000 to acquire the latest D-Wave 2000Q platform (2048 qubits), a computer powerful enough to potentially solve the most complex security problems faced by any government. In addition, Google is building its own quantum computers (currently at approx 50 qubits) and looking to connect its capability to the cloud. IBM and Microsoft are also trying to get a share of the market.
Whilst quantum computers are very powerful, they are still at early stage and there is a number of limitations :
One needs to bear in mind that quantum computers will not revolutionise all tasks performed by a regular computer such email or word processing.
A D- Wave computer occupies 10 sq m today and is a multi-million investment.
It is unclear if quantum computers will be as scalable as the regular computers that benefited from Moore’s Law.
Quantum environment are inherently noisy (due to the entanglement between qubits) and error correction needs to be addressed without increasing the number of computations.
In addition to that quantum computers are difficult to build, they have complex hardware schemes (superconductors)
Despite multiple claims that quantum computers are more energy efficient than binary computers a study at Oxford University reveals that they are more thermodynamically costly than their predecessors due to the underpinning irreversible process.

So what is the verdict?
In many way there are many parallels between the early stages of PqC (Personal Quantum Computer) and PC. In 1981, the first PC overheated, was significantly larger than a normal PC (pls see picture), was expensive and performed limited functionality with inadequate error correction.

The younger millennial are already looking at technologies that will be able to cope with advances in virtual reality, big data, machine learning, cybersecurity. Capped at 5 qubits, IBM is allowing anyone to access its proprietary quantum computer, to test its potential. It is only a matter of time before one of the big players finds the right “marketing” use case for PqC to be launched. However this is most likely to go from labs and universities to governments, then corporates, before anyone comes knocking at your door.



[1] D. J. Bedingham∗ and O. J. E. Maroney, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford,The thermodynamic cost of quantum operations (2016)

[2] N. Savage, Scientific American, Quantum Computers Compete for Supremacy, (July  2017) Link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/quantum-computers-compete-for-supremacy/

[3] New Scientist,Quantum Incoming, (July 2017)

[4] Computers Sold So Far, Worldometers, Link:http://www.worldometers.info/

[5] A. Ambainis, Institute for Advanced Studies, What Can We Do with a Quantum Computer?, (2014) Link: https://www.ias.edu/ideas/2014/ambainis-quantum-computing

[6] A. Beall, Wired, Inside the weird world of quantum computers, (March 2017) Link: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/quantum-computing-explained



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2 comments on “Will you have your own Personal Quantum Computer (PqC) any time soon?”

  1. Hi Lana,
    I think situation you discuss in your article is certainly an interesting one. When the first computers came out the initial hypotheses about the extent of their usage were mostly incorrect, as in the case of Howard Aiken who you mentioned in your article. Although there are certainly some parallels with the first traditional computers and the first quantum computers, the infrastructure needed to own a quantum computer means that it is highly unlikely that we will have quantum computers in our home soon. I read an article on Wired.com (https://www.wired.com/2017/03/race-sell-true-quantum-computers-begins-really-exist/) which repeated many of the ideas that you discussed but also raised one which I found particularly exciting. The article stated that although quantum computers may never enter our homes, we could still have access to and use the power of quantum computers through the cloud. Several big companies (e.g. Google, Microsoft, IBM, Alibaba) have already started trying to make commercial quantum computers which they will most likely allow users to use over the internet. I believe that this is certainly a plausible outcome however as with the first traditional computers only time will tell whether our initial hypotheses will be correct or not.

  2. Lana – Brilliant Article. I cannot wait until qPC’s are available, but I wonder how we will cool them and reduce their size.

    As you mentioned, the D-Wave 2x computer (https://www.dwavesys.com/d-wave-two-system) utilizes a processor that supports 2048 qBits. It’s interesting to learn that QC requires a temperatures lower than -455 degrees Fahrenheit. At the processor level, it is actually about 15 mK (MilliKelvin) which is about 100 times colder that empty space.
    I asked a friend that graduated from MIT with a degree in Quantum Physics, “Why so Cold”?

    QC Cooling Explained


    As electrical signals pass through the cooling apparatus, they become superconducting. Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic flux fields occurring in certain materials when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature. Because electrons remain in a cooled state, there is very little energy generations and consumption.

    Superconductivity is considered a quantum mechanical phenomenon and facilitates processing capability that is about 600 x faster than the fasts super computer.

    Google is also promising “quantum supremacy” by the end of the year; Microsoft’s Station Q is working on the hardware and operating system for a machine that will outpace any conventional computer.



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