How Does a Quantum Computer Work?


A classical computer performs operations using
classical bits, which can be either zero or one. Now in contrast, a quantum computer users
quantum bits or qubits. And they can be both zero and one at the same time. And it is this
that gives a quantum computer its superior computing power. There are a number of physical objects that
can be used as a qubit. A single photon, a nucleus or an electron.
I met up with researchers who were using the outermost electron in phosphorous as a qubit.
But how does that work? Well, all electrons have magnetic fields, so they are basically
like tiny bar magnets. And this property is called spin. If you place them in a magnetic
field they will align with that field, just like a compass needle lines up with the magnetic
field of the earth. Now this is the lowest energy state, so you
could call it the zero state or we call it for the electron, spin down. Now you can put
it in a one state, or spin up, but that takes some energy.>>If you took out the glass from your compass
you could turn the needle the other way, but you would have to apply some force to it.
You have to push it to flip to the other side. And that is the highest energy state. In principle,
if you were so delicate to really put it exactly against the magnetic field, it would stay
there.>>Now so far this is basically just like
a classical bit. It has got two states, spin up and spin down, which are like the classical
one and zero. But the funny thing about quantum objects is that thy can be in both states
at once. Now when you measure the spin it will be either up or down. But before you
measure it, the electron can exist in what is called a quantum super position, where
these coefficients indicate the relative probability of finding the electron in one state or the
other. Now it is hard to imagine how this enables
this incredible computing power of quantum computers without considering two interacting
quantum bits.>>Hello.
>>Hi. Now there are four possible states of these
two electrons.>>You could think that, well, that is just
like two bits of a classical computer, right? If you have two bits you can write zero, zero;
zero, one; one, zero; one, one. Right? There is four numbers. But these are still just two bits of information.
Right? All I need to say to determine which one of the four numbers you have in your computer
code is the value of the first bit and the value of the second bit. Here, instead, quantum
mechanics allows me to make super position of each one of these four states. So I can
write a quantum mechanical state, which is perfectly legitimate, that is some coefficient
times this plus some coefficient times that plus some coefficient times that plus some
coefficient times that. So determine the state of this two spin system,
I need to give you four numbers, four coefficients, whereas in the classical example of the two
bits, I only need to give you two bits. So this is how you understand why two qubits
actually contain four bits of information. I need to give you four numbers to tell you
the state of this system, whereas here I only need two. Now if we make three spins, we would have
eight different states and it could give you eight different numbers to define the state
of those three spins, whereas classical it is just three bits.
If you keep going, what you find is that the amount of equivalent classical information
contained by N qubits is two to the power N classical bits. And, of course, the power of exponentials
tells you that once you have, let’s say, 300 of those qubits in what we call the folient
angle state, so you must be able to create these really crazy states where there is a
super position of all three angles being one way and another way and another way and so
on, then you have like two to the 300 classical bits, which is as many particles as there
are in the universe.>>But there is a catch, although the qubits
can exist in any combination of states, when they are measured they must fall into one
of the basis states. And all the other information about the state before the measurement is
lost.>>So you don’t want generally to have as
the final result of your quantum computation something that is a very complicated super
positional state, because our cannot measure a super position. You can only measure one
of these basis states.>>Like down, down, up, up.>>Yeah. So what you want is to design the
logical operations that you need to get to the final computational result in such a way
that the final result is something you are able to measure, just a unique state.>>That is not trivial.>>That is not trivial. And it is essentially
… I am kind of stretching things, but I guess it is to some degree the reason why
quantum computers are not a replacement of classical computers.>>They are not.>>No, they are not. They are not universally
faster. They are only faster for special types of calculations where you can use the fact
that you have all these quantum super positions available to you at the same time, to do some
kind of computational parallelism. If you just want to watch a video in high definition
or browse the internet or write some documenting work, they are not going to give you any particular
improvement if you need to use a classical algorithm to get the result. So you should
not think of a quantum computer as something where every operation is faster. In fact,
every operation is probably going to be slower than in the computer you have at your desk.
But it is a computer where the number of operations required to arrive at the result is exponentially
small. So the improvement is not in the speed of the individual operation. It is in the
total number of operations you need to arrive at the result.
But that is only the case in particular types of calculations, particular algorithms. It
is not universally, which is why it is not a replacement of a classical computer.

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