Quantum computing represents the next true frontier in computing power, and with its advance will usher in incredible opportunities in data analysis, artificial intelligence and augmented reality systems. That is the good news. The bad news, for the unprepared, is that quantum computing will have the ability to strip through today’s encryption processes like a tornado in a trailer park. 

Quantum computing is based on the same theory as quantum physics, in that tiny particles can be in multiple places at once and hold different values simultaneously. This is called Superpositioning, and will provide far more process power than the traditional binary systems we use today. The clunky old computers of yore (and today) process all information using 0’s and 1’s. Strings of these two digits are processed by algorithms, and the result must usually be processed repeatedly, each using the result of the former run. Quantum computing can leverage superpositioning to run complex calculations simultaneously, since these particles (called qubits rather than bits) can represent the value 0, or 1, or both simultaneously.

The upshot is that processor power will be something of the likes we have never seen. Medical testing and diagnostics will be faster and more accurate. Communication and information retrieval systems will be vastly improved. Drug research will be greatly empowered. Artificial intelligence will replace much of the mundane and repetitive work we do today, and burgeoning technologies like autonomous vehicles will be far more adaptable to meet our needs. 

And the ability to analyze and understand the massive amount of data that is now collected daily will help solve many issues. William Hurley, chair of the Quantum Computing Standards Workgroup at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), told Future.com that: 

It’s my personal belief that quantum computing will help us make sense of the deluge of data we find ourselves creating to solve some very interesting problems. There are systems generating billions of data sets a day, and those might be the solution to some critical problems affecting society, but we can’t possibly begin to [work] through [all the data]. To me, that’s extremely exciting.

To give you a more realistic idea on the power of these new machines, we can provide this comparison courtesy of Forbes. In 1997, IBM’s computer Deep Blue defeated chess champion, Garry Kasparov. That computer won because it had the ability to examine 200 million possible moves every second. A quantum computer will be able to calculate 1 trillion moves per second. That is 5000 times the power of Deep Blue.

But, while this is all grand for many of the features and services we hope to use in the future, quantum computers will drastically change the landscape for security protocols. These computers will be able to chew through your encryption algorithms faster than Michael Moore on a box of doughnuts. For an industry managing confidential medical data, that is of paramount concern. It means the need for NSA grade encryption methods will be here sooner than you think. 

Today quantum computing is in its infancy, and as a result it is about as stable as an infant. The slightest disturbance, electrical or physical, can completely derail its computing processes, and qubits can only hold their quantum state for milliseconds. Experts believe, however, that stable, commercially viable quantum computing will be available within the next 12 to 15 years.

Coincidentally, that is about how long some insurance company feasibility committees need to figure out their lunch menu, so we’d best get cracking – before the quantum computers do.

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