If you haven’t read Ray Kurzweil's ‘The Singularity Is Near’ published a decade and a half ago, then I’d tell you it’s worth a read. He uses technological progress data to map the point at which an Artificial Intelligence (AI) would surpass human mental capabilities. There are of course a number of futurists and writers who have indicated that a Technological Singularity may be closer than we think. But what would it really be?
Most computers are defined by their programming, which is built on the capabilities of their hardware. So, let’s look a bit at hardware.
Computing hardware has become incredibly fast in a very brief period. As recently as 2018, a supercomputer clocked a mind-wrenching 122.3 petaflops (FLOP = floating-point operations per second). A kiloflop is 10 ³ while a petaflop is 10¹⁵. Ten years before this, the fastest supercomputer was computing at 1.026 petaflops. This is ~119x faster. As computers improve, the ability to carry out immensely complex calculations improves too. That’s where complex programming comes into play.
Consider this. With improvements in computing and the software capability; there’s a greater ability introduced, to design even superior computers. But then, there may be physical limitations (Moore’s Law) and the number of transistors which can be physically placed on a chip becomes insurmountable. In 2015, a 5-qubit quantum computer was made available over the cloud, upgraded recently to a 20-qubit model (with a 50-qubit model being testes). Okay, but so what? A quantum computer doesn’t operate using binary (1s and 0s/ yes or no); but particles which can exist in multiple states simultaneously. This allows for weighted superposition calculations. Simply put, a quantum computer could conduct numerous calculations simultaneously. At about 50-qubits, a quantum computer could become the equivalent of 10¹⁵ bits. That could surpass the abilities of most classical computers. In another decade, quantum computers could impact society and our world, like how internet communication did.
The first areas to see practical use and impact, would likely be those verticals which already produce billions of records each day. Even with today’s big-data crunching capabilities through distributed computing, classical computers must deal with bits of logic, usually in sequence. The leap quantum computers could bring is the advantage of non-sequential, non-linear processing of data. The results of big-data crunching could become available faster, pegged to a probability percentage, until all data has been considered. But really, what does this mean?
Financial market/ systems
Cause and effect could be gauged in shorter periods. Every action could be computed to provide a probable outcome, quickly. This could disrupt real-time trading. A self-learning model created for a quantum computer would improve its cause/effect calibrations in geometric leaps. Such a computer could conceivably corner the entire financial system, with an acute concentration of wealth towards it (or its owners). Must see this article.
Being able to process vast volumes of data, with multiple simultaneous outcomes; a quantum computer could conceivably break most known cryptography. The ‘password’ would be dead. Today’s computers use individuals’ passwords to create complex encryption keys. The time these would take to crack makes the effort nonviable. This wouldn’t be a problem a sufficiently evolved quantum computer would face. On the flip side, a quantum computer could encrypt data using the quantum state it is in, at that point in time. There is a near future danger though. Any data that’s being stolen today, could be saved by malicious parties and decrypted as soon as suitable quantum computers are available. The information gleaned could compromise people’s data in the future (think password recovery). (More on this here and here)
Drug development requires evaluating individual molecules in combination with others until combinations which ‘may’ be suitable are found. This takes time. And, mind-wrenching amounts of processing power. That’s something a quantum computer would be able to overcome. The time it takes to evaluate millions of combinations would be dramatically reduced. Enough that these could even be matched against an individual’s genes to ascertain the effectiveness of a drug molecule.
IoT and logistics at scale
Flying cars, delivery drones, pedestrians, lighting control, produce delivery, resupply, machine failure mitigation – quantum computing would make these readily achievable. Taking unstructured IoT sensor information and placing it into a gigantic model, a quantum computer would be able to accurately define the most optimal model scenario, microsecond by microsecond. The computer would then be able to direct each individual input provider to take actions (if these are available), to make the scenario model ever more suitable. In effect, nothing would crash into anything else, you wouldn’t run out of groceries, just-in-time production would be just that and the economy would reduce waste to the point where obsolesce wouldn’t be an issue. More on this here.
Not just big data, but humongous data. A quantum computer would be able to accurately project weather models based on available sensor inputs, if there’s enough data from across regions. Still, carry your umbrella.
AI-based decision making
We already have machine learning capabilities running off cloud-based systems which can handle and process enormous amounts of information. The abilities of these computers and the associated machine learning capabilities are available for commercial use. A conventional supercomputer computer today, can successfully pass itself off as a young teen. A quantum computer would be able to take machine learning capabilities to a level where discerning between a person and computer would be near impossible. There are risks with this of course (run-away decision making which may be detrimental to life). However, the capabilities will evolve and as they do so will a computer’s learning abilities to even absorb consequence measurement (like, thinking things through).
Where do you see quantum computing taking the world?