The use of quantum computers could spell the end of privacy and security.
Everything a computer does today is based on a series of zeros and ones. These two digits are capable of being combined to store or process information.
It has been like this for decades, though scientists have been trying to make the next leap, quantum computing.
In a quantum processor things are different due to the use of qubits, or quantum bits.
Qubits are systems that mark zeros and ones in different quantum states.
The advantage is that the same quantum properties of the system where they are stored are subject to the superposition and entanglement phenomena.
The first of these phenomena indicates that it can be both zero and one. The entanglement in turn indicates a very strong relationship between the states of several quantum particles that will remain coordinated over time in a kind of physical “dance.”
But that these qubits are able to go beyond does not mean that when we observe them we can see them at the same time in all the states.
At the key moment of the observation, that is, when they are defined as zero or one, we will see normal bits.
If we look at a series of 3 bits, we will observe its concrete state, which can be combined in 8 possible ways: 000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110, 111. With 4 bits we will have 16 combinations, with 5 there will be 32 and with 6 there will be 64, etc.
On the other hand, if we have 3 qubits they can represent the eight combinations mentioned at the same time.
The complication comes when they are observed. Then we have to start talking about the probabilities that they are resulting in one or another measure based on the above-mentioned superimposition and entanglement properties. Hence creating systems that can translate from bit to bit is complex.
It is complex because it is very difficult to manipulate qubits. Any type of physical phenomena nearby can disturb its quantum state and give measurement errors.
Luckily, different mathematical models allow us to correct these deviations in some cases.
There are two main cases that move scientists and engineers behind these developments.
The first is the possibility of calculating the factors of giant numbers in an easy way.
This is something that is especially complicated for traditional computers. That is why when we encrypt our communications or our data we do so with these mathematical operations.
The reason is that in doing so we prevent anyone who wants to decipher them without knowing which particular giant number is behind the encryption, and in this way they have to try one by one.
That is a very slow process that makes it almost impossible to break current advanced encryption systems, but that quantum computers could do without messing up. They can do such a thing thanks to their capacity to process huge amounts of probabilities at once.
The other great advance is to simulate the quantum states of matter itself. That will allow scientists to study the interactions between atoms or molecules very precisely.
This new ability speeds up the investigation of new drugs, new materials and new physical components that can be used to manufacture new products, for example.
Initially, a quantum computer will not cause Facebook to load faster or for you to download a movie faster.
According to what is known publicly, quantum computers are in an academic phase and it will be some time until engineers begin to create mathematical models and new algorithms that use the qubits to execute tasks that are impossible to be performed today or that would take an eternity to be executed.