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The quantum world is strange and fascinating. It explains some of the mysteries in our world, and it breaks the barriers for current processing powers. Contrary to current computers, which rely on bits, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits. The difference is qubits can be superpositioned -- i.e., they can be both zero and one, and all points in between, at the same time. This feature brings quantum computers their inherent parallelism, which allows them to work on millions of operations at once, thus, making them more powerful than today's most advanced supercomputers.
IBM, Google, Intel and even several governments are racing for quantum technology, and it's expected that quantum computers will be available in the next three to five years. However, the findings in the quantum world are not limited to quantum computing.
As quantum computers appear on the horizon, one of the biggest worries is they could easily break the current industry-standard encryption algorithms. This affects everything from blockchain to secure communications. But some are using quantum properties to offer unbreakable services.
China used the quantum properties to secure satellite communication. Because it is always possible to tell whether a quantum particle has previously been observed, the developers used this property to tell if an eavesdropper had intercepted the communication. Therefore, they would send a key to their recipient and only use that key once both parties were sure it had been unobserved. The key would then be used to encrypt and decrypt the messages.
This technique is known as quantum key distribution (QKD).
"QKD creates an unbreakable quantum key by etching ones and zeros on photons. If someone tries to intercept or otherwise obtain the data, the laws of quantum physics mean that the key changes, and it is no longer usable to decrypt the data it is attached to," explained John Prisco, CEO and founder of Quantum Xchange, which makes commercially viable QKD. "In this way, QKD protects against quantum computers' coming ability to decrypt even the best cryptographic security measures we use today."
We discussed the superpositioning feature of quantum particles, but there is another equally important feature of quantum technology referred to as entanglement. In simple terms -- if there is any such thing in quantum physics -- this means two or more particles are linked, so changes applied to one particle will be applied to the other entangled particles, no matter the distances or the materials between them. According to Canadian futurist Sylvain Rochon, this allows for teleportation.
"In practicum, this technique, combined with very fine 3D printing technology and atomic scanning technologies, could lead to machines capable of copying 3D objects exactly atom for atom," Rochon explained. "Put your object in the device, and as it is scanned, an atomically exact duplicate is created from atomic [or] molecular feeds in a 3D printer."
While it sounds like science fiction, it is not.
André König, CEO of Estrapadus, based in New York, described how the properties of quantum superposition and quantum entanglement are used to create sensors that are smaller, faster or more precise than current sensors.
"For example, quantum sensing has been used in MRIs and [has] shown up to three times faster results or improvements of resolution quality up to 30%," he said.
Sensing is also being deployed in gravimeters to assist oil, exploitation, geography and other efforts, with more refined measurements driving significant improvements. The technique relies on measuring changes in the earth's magnetic field to ascertain altitude.
Adib Ghubril, research director in the CIO practice at Info-Tech Research Group, based in London, Ont., explained that a French startup was able to develop small devices that used a sophisticated system of lasers to trap and cool atoms down to a few milli-Kelvins and then measure changes in their vertical acceleration.
Quantum computing is sometimes referred to as the sixth generation of computing systems, and once it's available, its effects will go far beyond cryptography. From AI to biopharmaceutical and biochemical processes, all will benefit from quantum technology.
For now, researchers are constantly improving their methods to increase their qubit numbers and improve their connectivity, while reducing noise. Quantum technology might not be around the corner, but it is a definite game changer and probably arrives sooner than we think.