Today’s computers are the product of a digital revolution. When we talk about computing, we talk about an environment of ones and zeroes that add up to all the programs, graphics and communications that we use. Often we tease, it’s just ones and zeroes but that small concept has enormous and far-reaching implications.
In the early days of computers, there was a competition between analog and digital computing for a practical, supportable, calculating machine. Actually, analog computers go back to ancient times and were used to calculate the position of stars and planets. Probably the most familiar example of an analog computer is a slide rule. But as analog slide rules were replaced by digital calculators so were analog computers replaced by its digital competitor. Analog computers are powerful because they have multiple states and are not constrained by just ones and zeroes. They can solve very complex equations. But in that power is a complicated framework not easy to mass produce. Transistors and later solid state and integrated circuit technology made the digital computer ubiquitous.
The digital computer has a new competitor in the quantum computer. Quantum computing is not really new, the concept has been around since the 1970s, but it is a complicated structure based on quantum mechanics. Most of the work in quantum computing has been theoretical because the technology was not available to take the idea from a dream to reality.
The recent announcement that Lockheed Martin will purchase a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems is a giant leap for this emerging technology. Experts are already speculating on the quantum gains in computing speed as exponential and tens of thousands of times as fast as the fastest digital computer. It is an exciting time to be a technology aficionado. It is a time when anything is possible and the universe has no limits.