**The Road to a 50-Qubit Quantum Computer and Quantum Supremacy: Challenges & Future Applications**

**History**

Quantum computing has come a long way since the two-qubit architecture first emerged in the 1990s. The first quantum computer with two qubits was constructed in 1998, which was just really an implementation of a quantum algorithm called Grover’s algorithm that solved “simple computer problems twice as fast as a classical computer.”

The qubit is the quantum version of the traditional bit in computing and is the physical carrier of quantum information, so the more qubits, the more information can be stored and processed. A two-qubit computer is not necessarily faster than traditional computers, but quantum computers have the ability and potential to perform certain tasks faster. Quantum computers take advantage of the quantum mechanical properties of interference, superposition, and entanglement to perform previously unsolvable computations. It is why they are posed to solve complex problem-solving activities, such as encryption, which will have major technological impacts in all kinds of fields.

Due to this immense potential, the construction of quantum computers progressed rapidly following the 1998 experimental demonstration of a quantum algorithm. Soon after, 3-qubit, 5-qubit, and 7-qubit NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) quantum computers emerged. A monumental moment came in 2011 when the first *commercial* quantum computer hit the market. It was priced at a whopping $10,000,000 to use its quantum annealers, the hardware required to use the 50-qubit quantum computing system. (A more detailed timeline of quantum computers can be found here).

In 2017, IBM announced its breakthrough development of a quantum computer capable of handling 50 qubits, which at that time was “the largest and most powerful quantum computer ever built.” At that time, IBM had made its 20-qubit quantum computing system available to third-party users through their cloud computing platform. It is important to note, however, that the quantum state could only be maintained for a total of 90 microseconds, although short, but a record feat nonetheless since it demonstrated how big of a challenge it is to sustain the fragile state of qubits.

In October 2019, Google claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy, which is a term coined by Caltech physicist John Preskill to describe the moment when “well-controlled quantum systems can perform tasks surpassing what can be done in the classical world.” However, many experts in the scientific community agree that it will take several years before quantum computers have a sufficient number of qubits to “be used profitably in practical applications.” In other words, before quantum supremacy is assured, there are significant challenges that must be overcome first.

Since Google’s milestone, tech giants have pushed to go beyond the 100-qubit barrier, including in November 2021 when IBM’s 127-qubit quantum processor called Eagle “decreased the potential for errors caused by interactions between neighboring qubits — providing significant boosts in yielding functional processors.” Most milestones following these achievements involve packing even more qubits onto a processor chip, yet the path to quantum computing and quantum supremacy will involve far more than controlling subatomic particles.

**Applications**

So, what does a two-qubit or 50-qubit quantum computer system mean in the practical sense? At the moment there is not much difference between the two as quantum computers have not yet reached a point where they can accelerate digital computation. However, its applications have immense potential to change the technological world so it is important to recognize this to ensure its continued procurement and investment. In the near future, quantum computers will be used to solve real-world problems, especially as they relate to the growing field of IoT and AI.

As previously mentioned, quantum computers are not the equivalent of a supercomputer or a fast computer, but instead are “ideally suited to specific computational challenges, essentially those that have comparatively small inputs and outputs but infinite possibilities.” Hence, one major potential use for quantum computers is in modeling. Consider its potential in disease diagnostics and the personalization of medicine through gene sequencing and analysis. Simulating pharmaceutical molecules or gene sequencing will require factoring in large numbers, which is only achievable with quantum computing. We can extend this computational ability for forecasting including complex financial risk modeling and weather and climate change modeling.

Then there is the convergence of quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Quantum computers have (or will have) the ability to process and analyze massive quantities of data needed for high-performance AI. This means potential use cases in facial recognition. Faster computing means that an even larger number of distributed devices can monitor and feed information into the same network without compromising on responsive communication or complex data gathering, meaning there is a huge potential for the growth of smart cities for example. Quantum computers can also address network latency issues, interoperability, real-time analytics, predictive analytics, secure cloud computing, and the emerging 5G telecommunications infrastructure, all necessary for the advancement of IoT technologies.

**Challenges**

Currently, one of the main roadblocks in the development of quantum computers is their technical feasibility. One technical problem in quantum computers is decoherence, “a process in which the environment interacts with the qubits, uncontrollably changing their quantum states and causing information stored by the quantum computer to be lost.” It is vital to keep qubits in a stable environment as even the slightest external impacts (vibrations, magnetic and electric fields, light, temperatures) can cause qubits to lose their inherent quantum characteristics and can destroy their computing ability.

To keep qubits stable, most quantum processing units require to be cooled to a temperature close to absolute zero of 0 Kelvin (–273.15°C) and shielded electromagnetically. Even under this protected environment, superconducting qubits only remain stable for fractions of a second, which is a minimal time during which quantum computing calculations can take place. The lack of large cooling infrastructure and the expense of cooling these superconducting qubits alone makes scaling them another challenge. Various cooling schemes are well underway, including a new helium cooling system, which may change the current state.

Another challenge is collecting quantum computing parts. According to the MIT Technology Review, it has been “difficult and expensive” to do so including refrigerants or cool structures needed for the quantum computer’s storage of qubits. Other specialized parts like superconducting cabling are also becoming difficult to obtain since “many quantum computing components are made by only one or two companies in the entire world.” There is also the current state of the global supply chain to consider. COVID-19 taught us the importance of supply chains, so supply chain problems will likely persist in the years to come. This challenge will need to be mitigated. Thousands of physical qubits will be needed per machine as the number of quantum computers grows.

The MIT Technology Review believes long wait times for quantum computer components will slow down the development of the technology as a whole. They also warn that tech Mongols like IBM and Google are likely to create a monopoly on quantum computing parts, leaving smaller startups and research institutions in the dust. However, quantum computing remains a promising and exciting field in which we can expect cross-collaboration among the private sector, government, and research institutions. In the U.S. alone, there are 82 quantum computing startups, and this number is rapidly growing.

**Conclusion**

Quantum computers are the future and are, naturally, the next revolutionary step in the computing world. While quantum computing is still in the R&D stage and has some way to go, it is beginning to make its way into several markets, as seen by the rise of many quantum computing startups, like IonQ who is already drawing investors from the likes of Amazon, Samsung, and Hewlett Packard.

On the research side, many institutions worldwide are joining the race to advance quantum computing. In October 2018, for example, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) opened its first research center in Korea dedicated to artificial intelligence quantum computing. The country’s Ministry of Science and ICT has pledged 3.2 billion won (USD 2.8 million) into the research lab to develop the quantum algorithms and software source technology required for quantum computing. SDT has been in discussions with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) to build a quantum computer and will become the first 50-qubit quantum computer in Korea.

SDT has also made advances with Quantum Security, utilizing QRNG and QKD technology for complete end-to-end encryption of IoT products and their data. Both of these quantum technologies are scheduled to be released by fall of this year, with immediate beta testing applications underway for securing Seoul infrastructure and our NodeV camera.

Before we can realize true quantum supremacy, it is likely that the rise of quantum security will gradually shift interest towards other applications of quantum technologies such as the ability to solve complex mathematical problems for data analysis. Although we may begin with hybrid algorithms that combine the advantages of both systems, splitting calculations to match the capabilities of quantum and binary computers, quantum infrastructure and security is already being put into use today.

Learn more about SDT and quantum computing on our website or LinkedIn.

About the Author: Karen is a passionate B2B technology blogger. While studying at Georgia Tech, Karen first grew interested in cybersecurity and has since worked for several security and cloud companies as a global marketer. When she’s not freelance writing, Karen loves to explore new food trends.