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WHAT CAN QUANTUM COMPUTING REALLY DO 2020?

An exhibition model of BM’s Q System One quantum computer. A vital component of the computer: the quantum processor

Create personalized medicines Developing medicine is a long process. You can spend a lot of time and money just trying to find a molecule that can fight disease. But with a quantum computer, you could simulate complex drug designs in a matter of hours. This technology could even tailor treatments to a patient’s DNA, making them more effective and reducing side effects. As each one would be unique, it’d also be much harder for viruses and bacteria to develop drug resistance.

Combat climate change Predicting the weather is hard because there are so many environmental variables, such as temperature, humidity and wind conditions. Beyond not having an umbrella on hand, faulty forecasts can cause travel chaos for airlines and affect farmers’ crops. With a quantum computer, scientists could predict near-term weather patterns perfectly. And they could more accurately assess the long-term effects of climate change before they happen

End traffic jams As the world’s cities grow bigger and smart cars start to drive themselves, better navigation is going to be needed. As quantum computers can perform multiple calculations at once, they’re very good at so-called ‘optimization problems’, or finding the best way to do something. Volkswagen has used quantum computers to help taxis find the fastest route to an airport in Beijing and buses avoid traffic jams in Barcelona. The process could also help speed up deliveries.

Find Earth 2.0 NASA believes a quantum computer combined with machine learning could process data collected by space telescopes much more efficiently, helping us find habitable planets. What’s more, it could even help plan missions. By simulating the many challenges a robotic rover might face in a distant world – like when and where best to recharge their solar batteries – these probes could be better programmed to overcome them.

Design new materials Back in 2016 – and working with just two qubits – Google engineers simulated a hydrogen molecule for the first time. Since then IBM has managed to model even more complex molecules. Just as this process might be used to design drugs, it could also make new chemicals and materials. This could include longer-lasting batteries, more efficient fertilizers for growing crops and even plastics that are biodegradable.

Make the internet hack-proof While current passwords take supercomputers centuries to crack, with a quantum computer you could do it in hours. You could access anything: emails, bank accounts, even state secrets. Fortunately, quantum mechanics might also be the solution. Quantum key distribution (QKD) sends information using photons. If you try to read these particles in flight, they’ll lose their uncertain state – destroying the data they’re carrying and alerting the sender.


How to feed Earth’s booming population

OUR current food system can feed only 3.4 billion people without transgressing key planetary limits, according to an analysis ofthe globalfarming system. However, reorganising what is farmed where – along with some changes in diets – would enable us to feed 10 billion people sustainably, suggests the study. In 2009, researchers identified nine so-called planetary boundaries: limits that we shouldn’t exceed if we want to maintain Earth’s life-support systems

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