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Breakthrough Analysis

Quantum Computing

by William E. Halal and Ann Wang
Monday, October 15, 2007


Event | Data Points | Forecast Data Analysis | Trend Analysis | Articles  

Quantum mechanics offers another possible successor to silicon in which information is stored and transmitted using atomic particles. The strange behavior of matter at the quantum level makes this computational technique bizarre. For instance, two or more atoms can become “entangled” so that a change in one instantaneously produces a like change in the other regardless of distance, offering the possibility of instantaneous “teleportation” of information. Because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, individual electrons can also coexist in two places simultaneously, and this feature of “superimposition” allows a single electron to carry two bits of information – or two “qubits.” The field is struggling to mature, but promising advances are underway, and the potential is enormous. Dr. Gisin, a quantum research scientist who developed the first commercially available quantum-cryptography system in '01, thinks “E-commerce will be possible only through quantum computing.” (Technology Review, 2/03) There is much, much more to be done, obviously, but the power of quantum computers may be available in a decade or two.

Event Being Forecast

A quantum computer enters the commercial market


Selected Data Points to Consider

Experts contend it will be at least 10 years before a viable quantum computer is developed. (InfoWorld, 10/29/03)

• One source claims it is likely to take 25 years to develop quantum computers. (, 8/21/02)

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Forecast Data Analysis

    Mean Std Dev N (# Experts)
Most Likely Year 2021 6 51
Market Size ($B) 400 309
Confidence (%) 56 16

In addition, 3 experts predicted that this event would never occur; mean confidence: 30%; std. dev.: 14.1.

Note: "Most Likely Year" is the year when this technology is expected to reach the adoption level stated under "Event Being Forecast" in industrial nations like the US, EU, and Japan. "Confidence" is the confidence our experts place in this forecst. "Market Size" estimates the potential market demand when this rechnology matures; global figures are not available, so this estimate is for the U.S. economy.

Forecast Chart

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Trend Analysis

PROS: Trends Driving this Event

  1. POTENTIAL IS VAST • The basic unit of quantum computing is a “qubit” - the state of an electron spinning in either clockwise or counterclockwise rotation, representing a 0 or a 1. Because superimposition allows atoms to exist in two places simultaneously, altering the state of an electron can produce two qubits, two electrons can produce four, three electrons eight, and twenty electrons could perform a million computations instantaneously. This exponential growth offers the potential of producing infinite processing power and infinite storage. A quantum computer could easily complete in seconds a task that takes a silicon computer billions of years. (Information Week, 5/10/04; The Economist, 4/3/04)
    • The ability to teleport information at a distance by entangling atoms has kindled a wave of imagination among physicists. David Darling (Teleportation, Wiley, 2005) thinks "Teleportation is going to play a major role in our future." Some contend the mystery of illusive UFOs may possibly be explained by advanced civilizations teleporting spacecraft to Earth. ( 7/8/05)
    • This vast power enables cracking even the most sophisticated encryption codes in a flash. (Technology Review 12/1/03). Conversely, it is impossible to observe a quantum state without altering it, so quantum cryptography can detect eavesdropping. (Technology Review 2/03) The first computer network protected with quantum computing is up and running at Harvard University, and other systems are being installed at the NSA, Federal Reserve, etc. (NewScientist 6/16/04)

  2. THE TECHNOLOGY IS IMPROVING D-Wave Systems in Canada launched the Orion, which they claim is the world's first qauntum computer. It operates using 16 qubits and is expected to have 1000 qubits in 2008, enough to do massive tasks. Some scientists doubt if it uses true quantum computing methods, but Seth Lloyd at MIT said "This work is potentially solid." (Discover 6/07)
    • Intel, Microsoft, IBM, HP, US Defense Department, US National Institute of Standard Technology, and Bell Labs are investing large sums on quantum computing. (Information Week 5/10/04)
    • The first quantum register used “spintronics” to increase memory density 1000 times by storing data in the spin of electrons. (Technology Review 4/27/04; NewScientist 10/8/04) Fifty DVDs could be stored on a hard drive the size of a credit card.
    • The U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology has developed an ion trap that can store 12 ions and is easily mass produced. The trap is made of common metals to form a chip that captures an electron. Roughly 10,000 traps will be required to build a useful computer. (TechnologyReview 1/19/05, 10/19/06)
    • Scientists at Penn State have created a 3D array that holds hundreds of atoms for computation. It uses lasers to create an "optical lattice" that contains atoms precisely at fixed locations where they can be observed and manipulated. The device was used to hold 250 atoms, more than enough to perform vast computational operations with qubits. (NewScientist 6/17/07)
    • Research groups have photographed individual electrons, flipped the spin of atoms, teleported information, developed a laser gun that fires individual photons of light, and entangled 5 photons.( 8/30/04; NewScientist 5/24/05; The Economist 4/3/04)
    • IBM has demonstrated the ability to store one bit on a single atom; in comparison, hard drives use 1 million atoms to store one bit of information. Using this technology, an entire supercomputer could be the size of a speck of dust.(EETimes, 8/30/07)
    • The U.S. NIST transmitted a single photon as the key to an encrypted message at 100 times the previously recorded speed. ( 4/3/04)
    • Researchers at Georgia Tech were first to demonstrate that it is possible to transfer information from atoms to light particles, or photons. ( 10/21/04)
    • IBM scientists demonstrated the ability to alter the charge on atoms. ( 7/22/04)


CONS: Obstacles Opposing this Event

  1. ENERGY REQUIREMENTS Quantum computing alters the state of atomic particles to store information, which requires energy. To do this on a massive scale for great computing power may require huge amounts of energy. (Machine Design, 3/6/03)

  2. INDETERMINACY One feature of quantum computing uses the ability of atoms to assume two states (superimposition) to transmit information. But this indeterminate quality may make quantum computers prone to error. (Electronic Engineering Times, 12/9/02) Some scientists think information stored in qubits may be so unstable that it will only hold a second or so before deteriorating into "decoherence." (NewScientist, 6/26/05)

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