AI and quantum computing: technology that's fueling innovation and solving future problems

Far from being all about who'll be first to prove its value, it seems to be more about solving real world problems for future generations in hopes of a better world

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Two weeks ago, I spent time in Orlando, Florida, attending Microsoft’s huge IT pro and developer conference known as Microsoft Ignite. Having the opportunity to attend events such as this to see the latest in technological advancements is one of the highlights of my job. Every year, I am amazed at what new technologies are being made available to us. The pace of innovation has increased exponentially over the last five years. I can only imagine what the youth of today will bring to this world as our next generation’s creators.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, kicked off the vision keynote on Day 1. As always, he gets the crowd pumped up with his inspirational speeches. If you saw Satya’s keynote last year, you could almost bet on what he was going to be talking about this year. His passion, and Microsoft’s mission, is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This is a bold statement, but one that I believe is possible. He also shared how Microsoft is combining cloud, artificial intelligence, and mixed reality across their product portfolio to help customers innovate and build the future of business. This was followed by a demonstration of how Ford Motor was able to use these technologies to improve product design and engineering and innovate at a much faster pace today. It’s clear to me that AI is going to be a core part of our lives as we continue to evolve with this technology.

The emergence of machine learning business models based on the use of the cloud is in fact a big factor for why AI is taking off. Prior to the cloud, AI projects had high costs but cloud economics have rendered certain machine learning capabilities relatively inexpensive and less complicated to operate. Thanks to the integration of cloud and AI, very specialized artificial intelligence startups are exploding in growth. Besides the aforementioned Microsoft, AI projects and initiatives at tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Apple are also exploding.

As we move forward, the potential for these technologies to help people in ways that we have never been able to before is going to become more of a reality than a dream. Technologies such as AI, serverless computing, containers, augmented reality, and, yes, quantum computing will fundamentally change how we do things and fuel innovation at a pace faster than ever before.

One of the most exciting moments that had everyone’s attention at Ignite was when Microsoft shared what it has been doing around quantum computing. We’ve heard about this, but is it real? The answer is yes. Other influential companies such as IBM and Google are investing resources in this technology as well. It’s quite complex but very exciting. To see a technology like this come to fruition and make an impact in my lifetime would be nothing short of spectacular.

Moore’s Law states the number of transistors on a microprocessor will double every 18 months. Today, traditional computers store data as binary digits represented by either a 1 or 0 to signify a state of on or off. With this model, we have come a long way from the early days of computing power, but there is still a need for even faster and more powerful processing. Intel is already working with 10-nanometer manufacturing process technology, code-named Cannon Lake, that will offer reduced power consumption, higher density, and increased performance. In the very near future circuits will have to be measured on an atomic scale. This is where quantum computing comes in.

I’m not an expert in this field, but I have taken an interest in this technology as I have a background in electronics engineering. In simple terms—quantum computing harnesses the power of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks. Quantum computing is combining the best of math, physics, and computer science using what is referred to as electron fractionalization.

Quantum computers aren’t limited to only two states. They encode information using quantum bits, otherwise known as qubits. This involves being able to store data as both 1s and 0s, known as superposition, at the same time which unlocks parallelism. That probably doesn’t tell you much but think of it this way: This technology could enable us to solve complex problems in hours or days that would normally take billions of years with traditional computers. Think about that for a minute and you will realize just how significant this could be. This could enable researchers to develop and simulate new materials, improve medicines, accelerate AI and solve world hunger and global warming. Quantum computing will help us solve the impossible.

There are some inherent challenges with quantum computing. If you try to look at a qubit you risk bumping it, thereby causing its value to change. Scientists have devised ways to observe these quantum superpositions without destroying them. This is done by using cryogenics to cool the quantum chips down to temperatures in the range of 0.01ºK (–459.65ºF) where there are no vibrations to interfere with measurements.

Soon, developers will be able to test algorithms by running them in a local simulator on your computer, simulating around 30 qubits, or in Azure simulating around 40 quibits. As companies such as Microsoft, Google, and IBM continue to develop technologies such as this, dreams of quantum computing are becoming a reality. This technological innovation is not about who is the first to prove the value of quantum computing. This is about solving real world problems for our future generations in hopes of a better world.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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