Show an ad over header. AMP

Why quantum computing matters

A new government initiative will direct hundreds of millions of dollars to support new centers for quantum computing research.

Why it matters: Quantum information science represents the next leap forward for computing, opening the door to powerful machines that can help provide answers to some of our most pressing questions. The nation that takes the lead in quantum will stake a pole position for the future.


Details: The five new quantum research centers — established in national labs across the country — are part of a $1 billion White House program announced Wednesday morning that includes seven institutes that will explore different facets of AI, including precision agriculture and forecast prediction.

  • "The future of American prosperity and national security will be shaped by how we invest, research, develop and deploy these cutting-edge technologies today," said U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios.

How it works: While AI is better known and increasingly integrated into our daily lives — hey, Siri — quantum computing is just as important, promising huge leaps forward in computer processing power.

  • Quantum computing harnesses the esoteric workings of quantum mechanics. While conventional or classical computers manipulate binary bits — the electrical or optical pulses representing 1s and os — to perform computation, quantum computers use what are known as qubits.
  • Qubits are subatomic particles like electrons or photons, and thanks to quantum mechanics they can represent numerous possible combinations between 1 and 0. The ability to exist simultaneously in multiple states is called superposition, and it means a quantum computer — unlike a classical one — can compute huge numbers of potential outcomes simultaneously.
  • Pairs of qubits can be entangled, meaning that they exist in a single quantum state, and changing the state of one qubit in the pair will instantaneously alter the state of its partner, even if they're separated by vast distances. While classical computers only double their processing power when they double their bits, entanglement means that quantum computers exponentially increase their power as they add qubits.

Of note: Albert Einstein famously hated the concept of entanglement, describing it as "spooky action at a distance." But the idea has held up over decades of research in quantum science.

Quantum computers won't replace classical ones wholesale — in part because the process of manipulating quantum particles is still highly tricky — but as they develop, they'll open up new frontiers in computing:

  • Cryptography: The sheer processing power of quantum computers means that at some point in the near future they'll be able to unlock all known digital encryption — which is why there's an international race to develop post-quantum cryptography.
  • Chemistry: At its foundation, nature is the process of quantum forces, but classical computers don't have the power to simulate matter at the subatomic level. Quantum computers do, which means they can be used to simulate the actions of molecules in order to break some of chemistry's toughest challenges, like making better batteries.
  • Quantum internet: Entanglement can be leveraged to send information via quantum communication, which promises to be far faster and more secure than current methods.

What they're saying: "Quantum is the biggest revolution in computers since the advent of computers," says Dario Gil, director of IBM Research. "With the quantum bit, you can actually rethink the nature of information."

The catch: While the underlying science behind quantum computer is decades old, quantum computers are only just now beginning to be used commercially.

  • The quantum state of a qubit is extremely fragile, and slight changes in vibration or temperature can cause them to lose their quantum state in a process called decoherence. As a result, quantum computers tend to be more error-prone than their classical ancestors.

What to watch: Who ultimately wins out on quantum supremacy — the act of demonstrating that a quantum computer can solve a problem that even the fastest classical computer would be unable to solve in a feasible time frame.

  • Last year Google claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy, performing a computation on a quantum computer in 200 seconds that the company claimed would have taken a classical supercomputer 10,000 years to complete. Its competitor IBM, though, cast doubt on the claim.
  • What to actually watch: The recent sci-fi show "Devs," where an all-powerful quantum computer is capable of perfectly predicting the future, which as far as I know is not yet on the menu.

The bottom line: The age of quantum computers isn't quite here yet, but it promises to be one of the major technological drivers of the 21st century.

Anxious days for airline workers as mass layoffs loom

The clock is ticking for tens of thousands of anxious airline employees, who face mass reductions when the government's current payroll support program expires on Sept. 30.

Where it stands: Airline CEOs met Thursday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who said President Trump would support an additional $25 billion from Congress to extend the current aid package through next March.

Keep reading... Show less

House Democrats ask DOJ watchdog for "emergency" probe of Durham's Trump-Russia investigation

Four Democratic House committee chairs on Friday asked the Justice Department's inspector general to launch an "emergency investigation" into whether Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham, his appointee, are taking actions that could "improperly influence the upcoming presidential election."

Catch up quick: Last year, Barr tapped Durham to conduct a sweeping investigation into the origins of the FBI's 2016 Russia probe, after he and President Trump claimed that it was unjustified and a "hoax."

Keep reading... Show less

U.S. nutritional supplements retailer takes first step to sell to China’s Harbin Pharma

GNC Holdings, the Pittsburgh-based nutritional supplements retailer, received bankruptcy court approval to sell itself to China’s Harbin Pharmafor $770 million, although the deal still faces U.S. political pressures over how GNC customer data is protected.

Why it matters: It's a reminder that the U.S.-China merger mess goes well beyond smartphone apps, with Sen. Marco Rubio asking for a CFIUS review.

Keep reading... Show less

The cumulative climate change effects of Trump's regulatory rollbacks

Reproduced from Rhodium Climate Service; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Trump administration's scuttling or weakening of key Obama-era climate policies could together add 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent to the atmosphere by 2035, a Rhodium Group analysis concludes.

Why it matters: The 1.8 gigatons is "more than the combined energy emissions of Germany, Britain and Canada in one year," per the New York Times, which first reported on the study.

Keep reading... Show less

Boeing's dual crises: How the pandemic has deepened its 737 MAX crunch

The grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX was the worst crisis in the plane-maker’s century-long history. At least until the global pandemic hit.

Why it matters: Wall Street expects it will be cleared to fly again before year-end. Orders for what was once the company’s biggest moneymaker were expected to rebound after the ungrounding, but now the unprecedented slump in travel will dash airlines’ appetite for the MAX and any other new planes, analysts say — putting more pressure on the hard-hit company.

Keep reading... Show less

New downloads of TikTok, WeChat to be blocked on Sunday

The Commerce Department issued Friday an order blocking new downloads of WeChat and TikTok in the U.S. as of Sept. 20.

The state of play: President Trump has been in a standoff with TikTok, threatening to ban the app if it's Chinese owner, ByteDance, does not relinquish control to a U.S. company. A deal is in the works with the American tech company Oracle, but would need to go through before Sunday to prevent TikTok from being ousted from app stores.

Keep reading... Show less

Michael Bloomberg unleashes $100 million "wall to wall" ad blitz to take down Trump in Florida

Mike Bloomberg's $100 millionFlorida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden's hardline Russia reset

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories