Skip to Content

Book Summary: Quantum Supremacy – How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything

Quantum Supremacy (2023) makes understanding the facts and theory behind quantum computers accessible and easy to understand for everyone. It traces the history of the modern computer and posits a future in which quantum computing takes on the challenges of humanity that are unsolvable with even the most powerful of modern supercomputers.

Introduction: Understand quantum computers and what they have to do with your future

If you’ve ever read a comic book or watched The Big Bang Theory, you’ve probably heard a little quantum terminology such as parallel universe and Schrödinger’s cat. But many people think that quantum physics is beyond their realm of understanding and consequently not worth the effort to learn about.

If you’re one of those people, get ready to change your mind. Not only is it possible and easy to understand the practical implications of quantum physics in our world, but it’s also important. The quantum realm isn’t just a subject for comic books. In fact, it’s being explored right now.

The future of computing – and therefore the world – is quantum. Given the possibilities for humanity in terms of fuel, medicine, and economics, advancements in quantum computing are something everyone should be paying attention to.

In this summary, we’ll take a look at the state of quantum computers as they exist today – including their power and their limitations. We’ll also take a quick trip through the history of computing that led us to this point. And finally, we’ll talk about the potential impact of quantum computers on society, medicine, and the world at large.

Book Summary: Quantum Supremacy - How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything

Goodbye silicon

In 2019, Google created a quantum computer called Sycamore. It could solve, in just 200 seconds, a complex mathematical problem that would take our current fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to solve. In digital computing, the basic unit of information is a bit whereas in quantum computing, it’s a qubit. Sycamore runs on 53 qubits and, at that time, that made it the most powerful computer in the world.

But just two years later, the Quantum Innovation Institute in China claimed that their quantum computer was 100 trillion times faster than supercomputers. It ran on 113 qubits.

On November 16 of that same year, the IBM Eagle was revealed which beat them both with 127 qubits. A year later IBM launched Osprey at 433 qubits.

When a quantum computer can outperform a digital computer at a specific task, it’s known as quantum supremacy. Clearly, this point has already been reached. What’s more, we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

There are several different ways in which quantum computing functions. Most inventors are using entangled atoms – more on that shortly – but a few researchers have found a way to send information on light beams using a clunky mirror-based setup. The race is on to be the first to optimize this technology. But we’re still many years away from a functioning quantum computer that can solve real-world problems in fields ranging from medicine to fuel to cybersecurity.

Even so, the age of silicon appears to be coming to an end. Moore’s Law, first postulated in 1965, suggests that the number of transistors that can be built into a microchip doubles every 18 months. Effectively, that means computer power also doubles every 18 months. But if we continue primarily using silicon, this law will stop being true in the very near future.

You see, digital computers are reaching their capacity to be able to solve large-scale problems – or at least to be able to solve them quickly enough to be useful. But quantum computers can take us into a new era with their insanely fast speeds and ability to simultaneously analyze multiple paths and problems to create the best solution.

So what is it that makes quantum computers so powerful? Well, two key factors contribute to this power.

The first is superposition, or the ability of an atom to exist in multiple states at the same time. This is how quantum computers can solve problems so quickly – by analyzing all paths at the same time to determine the path of least action.

The second factor is known as entanglement. This is when two atoms establish interaction with each other, sharing information, and keep that connection even when they’re separated at a great distance.

Now, you’re probably already wondering, How do I get my hands on one of these quantum computers? Why isn’t all technology already based on quantum computing? Well, the problem is that there’s one primary challenge, and it has to do with something called coherence.

For quantum computers to work, a system has to be completely stable. Atoms are fragile and the least disturbance disrupts them. So quantum computers as they currently exist have to be framed in systems that keep them at absolute zero temperatures.

There’s hope, though. Mother nature achieves coherence at regular temperatures in a little process called photosynthesis. So scientists are studying how coherence is achieved in nature in the hope of finding a way to recreate the process in a computer.

But before we talk about the practical applications of quantum computers, let’s take a quick look back at how we got here.

Two thousand years of computers

In 1901, off the coast of a Greek island called Antikythera, researchers discovered the remains of a first-century trading ship. On that ship, they found Roman artifacts that they speculate were being sent as a gift to Julius Caesar.

Among those artifacts was a strange hunk of bronze. It was clearly man-made but impossible to identify at the moment of its discovery. In fact, this piece of metal kept researchers confused for decades. In the 1970s, X-ray imaging was used to investigate the artifact, but it wasn’t until CT scans were published in 2006 that researchers started to recognize the implications of the device.

What’s now known as the Antikythera Mechanism provided a highly complex simulation of the universe as it was known at the time. The device could make predictions about events like eclipses, and it could even calibrate in anticipation of changes in speed due to the elliptical orbit of the Earth.

Simulation is the goal of quantum computing. When we can simulate the world around us down to the quantum level, we can begin to analyze some of the many problems that have plagued us since the beginning of time.

No device came close to the technical advancement of the Antikythera device – let alone built on it – until the 1800s. It was then that Charles Babbage invented the first digital computer. Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, figured out how to feed the computer information to get it to perform complicated mathematical tasks that were essential in industries such as construction or navigation. She was essentially the first programmer.

By 1900, things were gathering pace, Max Planck challenged Newtonian physics and created what’s now called Planck’s Constant, representing the size of quantum energy. This constant would become the foundation of quantum mechanics and quantum theory.

Then, in 1926, Erwin Schrödinger built on this by creating a wave equation using Planck’s Constant. Rather than seeing electrons as particles, Schrödinger suggested they exist as a wave. In other words, an electron exists in many places at once until the moment it’s measured – which is when the wave would collapse into a particle.

To illustrate this idea, the analogy of Schrödinger’s cat was created. While the cat is in the box, the cat can be considered to be both dead, alive, and all states in between – until it’s observed. At that point, all the states of the cat collapse into the measurable one.

Ten years later, in 1936, Alan Turning described what would eventually become the Turing machine – the basis for all modern computing. His machine helped break the previously uncrackable codes used by the Nazis during WWII. As a result, the war was shortened by two years and an estimated 14 million lives were saved.

In 1948, Richard Feynman finalized his path integral formulation. Prior to that, scientists had observed in photosynthesis that quantum particles tend to follow the path of least action. But how did the particles “know” what that path was? Feynman answered that question. He postulated that because electrons exist in waves, they’re able to experience all paths at once.

This idea led Feynman to create his path integral formulation. Isaac Newton had invented calculus to solve problems that involved motion. The path integral formulation solved those same problems in a much simpler way and it paved the way for yet more quantum discoveries.

If the description of the path integral formulation sounds familiar, that’s probably because we’ve already talked about how quantum computers can experience and analyze all possibilities simultaneously before choosing the best solution. Everything these scientists and inventors of the past created has led to the development of what we know as quantum science today.

One more name needs to be added to this esteemed list, that of Hugh Everett. For a long time, scientists argued about the wave theory and the idea that a wave collapsed into a single reality when measured. This was a huge problem to overcome until Everett proposed that maybe the wave doesn’t actually collapse; maybe all versions of the reality experienced by the wave exist simultaneously.

So, if you enjoy the multiverse of comic books or any other fiction that explores parallel dimensions, Everett is the man to thank.

OK, so while the many worlds theory does make for good entertainment, it’s serious subject matter for quantum physicists and continues to be explored today. So let’s get back to understanding what the value of all of these quantum developments might be in the near future.

Good and evil in progress

In 1918, Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing a process which used intense heat and pressure to convert nitrogen into nitrate fertilizer. As a result, a green revolution started, which produced enough food to grow the human species into the 8 billion population size that it is today.

But Fritz Haber is also known by another name: the father of chemical warfare. His inventions were responsible for millions of deaths throughout World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust.

Today, that crude and resource-eating process of nitrogen-fixing first invented by Haber is being challenged by quantum scientists.

Thanks to two breakthroughs, we now better understand the building blocks of life.

In 1952, Stanley Miller created an experiment that used many of the elements thought to have existed on prehistoric earth, along with a jolt of electricity, and was able to spontaneously produce amino acids. We now know, through simulations using the elements found in gas clouds in space, that it’s likely that amino acids exist in space and may have been brought here in meteorite dust.

The second breakthrough was that of Francis Crick and James Watson. In his 1944 book entitled What is Life? Schrödinger described the characteristics of an unknown molecule that would explain the development of life as we know it. Crick and Watson took his idea further and identified the double-helix shape of what we now know to be DNA.

Thanks to all of these inventions and discoveries, we understand the pieces and processes needed to produce the energy that sustains life. But there are still many obstacles to overcome. Just like Haber’s crude process for nitrogen-fixing, many of our attempts at coming up with clean energy are actually sourced through unsustainable means, and our efforts at discovery are still done largely by trial and error.

Quantum computers have the potential to be able to solve problems like nitrogen-fixing and harnessing the power of sunlight. Hopefully, it won’t be long before quantum computing can deliver a second green revolution.

When cancer loses

On December 23, 1971, President Richard Nixon signed into effect the National Cancer Act, declaring war on cancer – cancer won. The problem with cancer is that it comes from far too many different variables to easily identify and stop it.

Cancer isn’t a foreign invader; it’s created by our own healthy cells. Once we reach adulthood, some cells are programmed to die as others divide. In the case of cancer, healthy cells forget to die off and instead reproduce at an alarming rate.

There are many diseases caused by our bodies harming themselves as opposed to foreign invaders. Take COVID-19, for instance. The deaths associated with COVID-19 weren’t as a result of the symptoms of the virus, but rather the cytokine storm created by the immune system going off the rails.

Another example of the body turning against itself is in autoimmune diseases which happen when the body receives misinformation about an otherwise healthy particle and begins to attack itself.

Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders may be a result of something called prions, which are improperly folded proteins. No one knows why a protein misfolds, but when it does, it can send that information to other proteins, spreading the disorder.

Technological advancements have improved our quality and length of life. From sanitation to antibiotics and vaccines to better nutrition, we’ve taken the human race from lifespans of approximately 30 years to 70 years and improved the overall quality of those lifespans, too. But we’ve done all of this largely by trial and error. When it comes to things like cancer and Alzheimer’s where there are so many factors at play we may never be able to find answers on our own, quantum computers may save us.

Our planet and beyond

Let’s now switch our focus to climate change and space.

Earth is warming up as a result of human behavior. This warming is creating a variety of problems. One of those is the release of the greenhouse gas methane due to the melting of polar ice caps. As it’s released, it contributes to yet more global warming.

Another consequence of climate change is that the polar vortex, which has always been quite stable, is becoming unstable. This area of cold air and low pressure at the poles is always there but is stronger in winter. In recent decades, it’s been expanding, pushing colder, more unpredictable weather further south.

The consequences of climate change range from mildly inconvenient to catastrophic, and the fact is that we can no longer prevent disaster, we can only mitigate it.

Unfortunately, we’re also reaching a limit on what digital computers can do as far as predicting weather patterns and assessing climate change. Quantum computers, on the other hand, can theoretically provide virtual weather reports that could alter the future of humanity. Their ability to simultaneously assess many paths means they can more quickly generate accurate predictions about short- and long-term weather situations.

Beyond our climate, there’s another important application of quantum computers, and that’s the ability to understand the stars.

Back in 1859, the biggest solar flare in recorded history hit Earth. It resulted in intensely beautiful Northern Lights – but it also resulted in telegraph wires setting alight.

Today, if that same storm were to hit, it would potentially set us back 150 years, not only disrupting our satellite and radio communications but also completely destroying power grids.

The big problem is that we don’t understand how stars work or what causes different intensities in solar storms, so we have no means of predicting and preparing for them. With their ability to simulate the universe, quantum computers could help us better understand our sun and not be caught off guard by unexpected solar flares.

These computers can also help us bottle the power of the sun. The current state of fusion reactors is moving forward. In December 2022, a fusion reaction greater than the amount of energy it took to create that reaction was achieved.

But we’re still at least several decades away from commercializing fusion and powering our world with it. The problem is that we have to figure all of this out by trial and error. And the expense involved in failing is prohibitive. Quantum computers can help us more quickly find our best path forward, simulating all possibilities and showing us the right one.

When we can better understand our planet and our universe, we can not only improve the life and longevity of our planet, we can truly become an interplanetary species.


Quantum computers exist and are rapidly improving. Not only are there functioning computers cracking codes and performing complex equations at unheard-of speeds, but there are also different forms of them. Quantum computers are the natural progression in a short, rapid series of discoveries and inventions by people like Erwin Schrodinger, Richard Feynman, and Hugh Everett. The possibilities for things like a second green revolution and a cure for cancer all hinge on our ability to take quantum computers to the next level.

About the author

MICHIO KAKU is a professor of physics at the City University of New York, cofounder of string field theory, and the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Hyperspace, Beyond Einstein, Physics of the Impossible, and Physics of the Future. He is the science correspondent for CBS’s This Morning and host of the radio programs Science Fantastic and Explorations in Science.


Science, Technology and the Future, History, Society, Culture, Nonfiction, Physics, Business, Computers, Engineering, Computer Science, Quantum Physics, Theories of Science, Quantum Theory, Social Aspects of Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Semantics

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION Predicting the Next 100 years
FUTURE OF AI Rise of the Machines
FUTURE OF MEDICINE Perfection and Beyond
NANOTECHNOLOGY Everything from Nothing?
FUTURE OF ENERGY Energy from the Stars
FUTURE OF WEALTH Winners and Losers
FUTURE OF HUMANITY Planetary Civilization


An exhilarating tour of humanity’s next great technological achievement—quantum computing—which may eventually illuminate the deepest mysteries of science and solve some of humanity’s biggest problems, like global warming, world hunger, and incurable disease, by the bestselling author of The God Equation.

The runaway success of the microchip processor may be reaching its end. Running up against the physical constraints of smaller and smaller sizes, traditional silicon chips are not likely to prove useful in solving humanity’s greatest challenges, from climate change, to global starvation, to incurable diseases. But the quantum computer, which harnesses the power and complexity of the atomic realm, already promises to be every bit as revolutionary as the transistor and microchip once were. Its unprecedented gains in computing power herald advancements that could change every aspect of our daily lives.

Automotive companies, medical researchers, and consulting firms are betting on quantum computing, hoping to exploit its power to design more efficient vehicles, create life-saving new drugs, and streamline industries to revolutionize the economy. But this is only the beginning. Quantum computers could allow us to finally create nuclear fusion reactors that create clean, renewable energy without radioactive waste or threats of meltdown. They could help us crack the biological processes that generate natural, cheap fertilizer and enable us to feed the world’s growing populations. And they could unravel the fiendishly difficult protein folding that lies at the heart of previously incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s, helping us to live longer, healthier lives. There is not a single problem humanity faces that couldn’t be addressed by quantum computing. Told with Kaku’s signature clarity and enthusiasm, Quantum Supremacy is the story of this exciting frontier and the race to claim humanity’s future.


“Kaku spends much of [Quantum Supremacy] recounting the history of computing, bringing listeners back to the Turing machine and the invention of transistors as crucial foundations. That mind-blowing future is the focus. . . . [Kaku’s] lucid prose and thought process make abundant sense of this technological turning point.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Expertly describes and rectifies common misconceptions about quantum computing—a technology regarded by experts as one that is likely to have profound societal implications. . . . Kaku deftly navigates the relevant scientific landscape. . . . Lucid. . . . Kaku excels at developing understandable metaphors for the complexities of quantum mechanics and computing. . . . Well written and accessible, offering readers a comprehensive overview of quantum computing, its underlying principles, and its potential.” —Science

“A renowned physicist explains the mind-blowing potential of quantum computing. Translating complicated scientific concepts into language that lay readers can understand is an art. Kaku, a professor of physics at the City University of New York, is one of the best practitioners. . . . Kaku examines how quantum computing could profoundly affect biotechnology, medicine, energy, food production, and environmental modelling—virtually every aspect of human activity. . . . The author pauses occasionally to provide summaries, which is important given the inherent complexity of the subject. As always, Kaku’s enthusiasm is contagious, and this latest book is an important guide to a crucial part of the tech future. An informative and highly entertaining read about the computing revolution already underway.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Illuminating … revealing a breathtaking, expansive look into the promise, power, and possibility of quantum computing. . . . Kaku will spark the imagination of [readers] interested in the nexus of computers and quantum mechanics.” —Booklist

Video and Podcast

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

chapter 1

End of the Age of Silicon

A revolution is coming.

In 2019 and 2020, two bombshells rocked the world of science. Two groups announced that they had achieved quantum supremacy, the fabled point at which a radically new type of computer, called a quantum computer, could decisively outperform an ordinary digital supercomputer on specific tasks. This heralded an upheaval that can change the entire computing landscape and overturn every aspect of our daily life.

First, Google revealed that their Sycamore quantum computer could solve a mathematical problem in 200 seconds that would take 10,000 years on the world’s fastest supercomputer. According to MIT’s Technology Review, Google called this a major breakthrough. They likened it to the launch of Sputnik or the Wright brothers’ first flight. It was “the threshold of a new era of machines that would make today’s mightiest computer look like an abacus.”

Then the Quantum Innovation Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences went even further. They claimed their quantum computer was 100 trillion times faster than an ordinary supercomputer.

IBM vice president Bob Sutor, commenting on the meteoric rise of quantum computers, states flatly, “I think it’s going to be the most important computing technology of this century.”

Quantum computers have been called the “Ultimate Computer,” a decisive leap in technology with profound implications for the entire world. Instead of computing on tiny transistors, they compute on the tiniest possible object, the atoms themselves, and hence can easily surpass the power of our greatest supercomputer. Quantum computers might usher in an entirely new age for the economy, society, and our way of life.

But quantum computers are more than just another powerful computer. They are a new type of computer that can tackle problems that digital computers can never solve, even with an infinite amount of time. For example, digital computers can never accurately calculate how atoms combine to create crucial chemical reactions, especially those that make life possible. Digital computers can only compute on digital tape, consisting of a series of 0s and 1s, which are too crude to describe the delicate waves of electrons dancing deep inside a molecule. For example, when tediously computing the paths taken by a mouse in a maze, a digital computer has to painfully analyze each possible path, one after the other. A quantum computer, however, simultaneously analyzes all possible paths at the same time, with lightning speed.

This in turn has heightened an intense rivalry between competing computer giants, which are all racing to create the world’s most powerful quantum computer. In 2021, IBM unveiled its own quantum computer, called the Eagle, which has taken the lead, with more computing power than all previous models.

But these records are like pie crusts—they are made to be broken.

Given the profound implications of this revolution, it is not surprising that many of the world’s leading corporations have invested heavily in this new technology. Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Rigetti, and Honeywell are all building quantum computer prototypes. The leaders of Silicon Valley realize that they must keep pace with this revolution or be left in the dust.

IBM, Honeywell, and Rigetti Computing have put their first-generation quantum computers on the internet to whet the appetite of a curious public, so that people may gain their first direct exposure to quantum computation. One can experience this new quantum revolution firsthand by connecting to a quantum computer on the internet. For example, the “IBM Q Experience,” launched in 2016, makes fifteen quantum computers available to the public via the internet for free. Samsung and JPMorgan Chase are among these users. Already, 2,000 people, from schoolchildren to professors, use them every month.

Wall Street has taken a keen interest in this technology. IonQ became the first major quantum computing company to go public, raising $600 million in its IPO in 2021. Even more startling, the rivalry is so intense that a new start-up, PsiQuantum, without any commercial prototype on the market or any track record of previous products, suddenly soared on Wall Street to a $3.1 billion valuation, with the ability to capture $665 million in funding almost overnight. Business analysts wrote that they had rarely seen anything like this, a new company riding the tide of feverish speculation and sensational headlines to such heights.

Deloitte, the consulting and accounting firm, estimates that the market for quantum computers should reach hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2020s and tens of billions of dollars in the 2030s. No one knows when quantum computers will enter the commercial marketplace and alter the economic landscape, but predictions are being revised all the time to match the unprecedented speed of scientific discovery in this field. Christopher Savoie, CEO of Zapata Computing, speaking about the meteoric rise of quantum computers, says, “It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.”

Even the U.S. Congress has expressed keen interest in helping jump-start this new quantum technology. Realizing that other nations have already generously funded research in quantum computers, in December 2018, Congress passed the National Quantum Initiative Act to provide seed money to help spark new research. It mandated the formation of two to five new National Quantum Information Science Research Centers, to be funded with $80 million annually.

In 2021, the U.S. government also announced an investment of $625 million in quantum technologies, to be supervised by the Department of Energy. Giant corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Lockheed Martin also contributed an additional $340 million to this project.

The Chinese and the U.S. are not the only ones using government funds to accelerate this technology. The U.K. government is now constructing the National Quantum Computing Centre, which will serve as a hub for research on quantum computing, to be built at the Harwell lab of the Science and Technology Facilities Council in Oxfordshire. Spurred on by the government, there were thirty quantum computer start-ups founded in the U.K. by the end of 2019.

Industry analysts recognize that it’s a trillion-dollar gamble. There are no guarantees in this highly competitive field. Despite the impressive technical achievements made by Google and others in recent years, a workable quantum computer that can solve real-world problems is still many years in the future. A mountain of hard work still lies before us. Some critics even claim it could be a wild-goose chase. But computer companies realize that unless they have a foot in the door, it might slam shut on them.

Ivan Ostojic, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey, says, “Companies in the industries where quantum will have the greatest potential for complete disruption should get involved in quantum right now.” Areas like chemistry, medicine, oil and gas, transportation, logistics, banking, pharmaceuticals, and cybersecurity are ripe for major change. He adds, “In principle, quantum will be relevant for all CIOs as it will accelerate solutions to a large range of problems. Those companies need to become owners of quantum capability.”

Vern Brownell, former CEO of D-Wave Systems, a Canadian quantum computing company, remarks, “We believe we’re right on the cusp of providing capabilities you can’t get with classical computing.”

Many scientists believe that we are now entering an entirely new era, with shock waves comparable to those created by the introduction of the transistor and the microchip. Companies without direct ties to computer production, like the automotive giant Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, are already investing in this new technology, sensing that quantum computers may pave the way for new developments in their own industries. Julius Marcea, an executive with rival BMW, has written, “We are excited to investigate the transformative potential of quantum computing on the automotive industry and are committed to extending the limits of engineering performance.” Other large companies, like Volkswagen and Airbus, have set up quantum computing divisions of their own to explore how this may revolutionize their business.

Pharmaceutical companies are also watching developments in this field intently, realizing that quantum computers may be able to simulate complex chemical and biological processes that are far beyond the capability of digital computers. Huge facilities devoted to testing millions of drugs may one day be replaced by “virtual laboratories” that test drugs in cyberspace. Some have feared that perhaps this might one day replace chemists. But Derek Lowe, who runs a blog about drug discovery, says, “It is not that machines are going to replace chemists. It’s that the chemists who use machines will replace those that don’t.”

Even the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, the biggest science machine in the world, which slams protons together at 14 trillion electron volts to re-create the conditions of the early universe, now uses quantum computers to help sift through mountains of data. In one second, they can analyze up to one trillion bytes generated by about one billion particle collisions. Perhaps one day quantum computers will unravel the secrets of the creation of the universe.

Quantum Supremacy

Back in 2012, when physicist John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology first coined the term “quantum supremacy,” many scientists shook their heads. It would take decades, if not centuries, they thought, before quantum computers could outperform a digital computer. After all, computing on individual atoms, rather than wafers of silicon chips, was considered fiendishly difficult. The slightest vibration or noise can disturb the delicate dance of atoms in a quantum computer. But these stunning announcements of quantum supremacy have so far shredded naysayers’ gloomy predictions. Now the concern is shifting to how fast the field is developing.

The tremors caused by these remarkable achievements have also shaken boardrooms and top secret intelligence agencies around the world. Documents leaked by whistleblowers have shown that the CIA and the National Security Agency are closely following developments in the field. This is because quantum computers are so powerful that, in principle, they could break all known cybercodes. This means that the secrets carefully guarded by governments, which are their crown jewels containing their most sensitive information, are vulnerable to attack, as are the best-kept secrets of corporations and even individuals. This situation is so urgent that even the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which sets national policy and standards, recently issued guidelines to help large corporations and agencies plan for the inevitable transition to this new era. NIST has already announced they expect that by 2029 quantum computers will be able to break 128-bit AES encryption, the code used by many companies.

Writing in Forbes magazine, Ali El Kaafarani notes, “That’s a pretty terrifying prospect for any organization with sensitive information to protect.”

The Chinese have spent $10 billion on their National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences because they are determined to be a leader in this vital, fast-moving field. Nations spend tens of billions to jealously guard these codes. Armed with a quantum computer, a hacker might conceivably break into any digital computer on the planet, thereby disrupting industries and even the military. All sensitive information may become available to the highest bidder. Financial markets might also be thrown into turmoil by quantum computers breaking into the inner sanctum of Wall Street. Quantum computers might also unlock the blockchain, creating havoc in the bitcoin market as well. Deloitte has estimated that about 25 percent of bitcoins are potentially vulnerable to hacking by a quantum computer.

“Those running blockchain projects will likely be keeping a nervous eye on quantum computing advancements,” concludes a report by CB Insights, a data software IT company.

So what is at stake is nothing less than the world economy, which is heavily wedded to digital technology. Wall Street banks use computers to keep track of multibillion-dollar transactions. Engineers use computers to design skyscrapers, bridges, and rockets. Artists depend on computers to animate Hollywood blockbusters. Pharmaceutical companies use computers to develop their next wonder drug. Children rely on computers to play the latest video game with their friends. And we crucially depend on cell phones to give us instantaneous news from our friends, associates, and relatives. All of us have had the experience of being thrown into a panic when we cannot find our cell phone. In fact, it is extremely difficult to name any human activity that hasn’t been turned upside down by computers. We are so dependent on them that if somehow all the world’s computers suddenly came to an abrupt halt, civilization would be thrown into chaos. That is why scientists are following the development of quantum computers so intently.

End of Moore’s Law

What is driving all this turmoil and controversy?

The rise of quantum computers is a sign that the Age of Silicon is gradually coming to a close. For the past half-century, the explosion of computer power has been described by Moore’s law, named after Intel founder Gordon Moore. Moore’s law states that computer power doubles every eighteen months. This deceptively simple law has tracked the remarkable exponential increase in computer power, which is unprecedented in human history. There is no other invention which has had such a pervasive impact in such a brief period of time.

Computers have gone through many stages throughout their history, each time vastly increasing their power and causing major societal change. Moore’s law, in fact, can be extended all the way back to the 1800s, to the age of mechanical computers. Back then, engineers used spinning cylinders, cogs, gears, and wheels to perform simple arithmetic operations. At the turn of the last century, these calculators began to use electricity, replacing gears with relays and cables. During World War II, computers used vast arrays of vacuum tubes to break secret government codes. In the postwar era, the transition was made from vacuum tubes to transistors, which could be miniaturized to microscopic size, facilitating continued advances in speed and power.

Back in the 1950s, mainframe computers could only be purchased by large corporations and government agencies like the Pentagon and international banks. They were powerful (for example, the ENIAC could do in thirty seconds what might take a human twenty hours). But they were expensive, bulky, and often took up an entire floor of an office building. The microchip revolutionized this entire process, decreasing in size over the decades so that a typical chip the size of your fingernail can now contain about one billion transistors. Today, cell phones used by children to play video games are more powerful than a roomful of those lumbering dinosaurs once used by the Pentagon. We take for granted that the computer in our pocket exceeds the power of the computers used during the Cold War.

All things must pass. Each transition in the development of the computer rendered the previous technology obsolete in a process of creative destruction. Moore’s law is already slowing down and may eventually come to a halt. This is because microchips are so compact that the thinnest layer of transistors is about twenty atoms across. When they reach about five atoms across, the location of the electron becomes uncertain, and they can leak out and short-circuit the chip or generate so much heat that the chips melt. In other words, by the laws of physics, Moore’s law must eventually collapse if we continue to use primarily silicon. We could be witnessing the end of the Age of Silicon. The next leap might be the post-Silicon or Quantum Age.

    Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

    Your Support Matters...

    We run an independent site that\'s committed to delivering valuable content, but it comes with its challenges. Many of our readers use ad blockers, causing our advertising revenue to decline. Unlike some websites, we haven\'t implemented paywalls to restrict access. Your support can make a significant difference. If you find this website useful and choose to support us, it would greatly secure our future. We appreciate your help. If you\'re currently using an ad blocker, please consider disabling it for our site. Thank you for your understanding and support.