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How quantum computing engineers are applying their tech to real-world issues

Countless new applications for quantum technology are likely to come around in the next few years.

ibm quantum computer showcased on black background
Image: IBM

Quantum might be a popular industry buzzword, but it’s hard to imagine most applications ever really helping out regular users or small business owners. Conventional computer hardware isn’t growing anywhere near as fast as it used to before Moore’s Law got busted, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t just pile GPUs on top of other GPUs to build faster clusters.

That meant that even the most pro-quantum computing industry insiders focused almost exclusively on performing computations that would have been infeasible using regular silicon.

Now, however, some promoters are revitalizing the debate by suggesting that we might very well see the growth of quantum servers people could actually run real operating systems on. The second you do that is the same moment that gamers and media streamers get a chance to take advantage of the technology.

Considering that the quantum computing industry is supposed to be worth maybe $2.4 billion by next year, engineers are going to have to find some applications outside of specialized ones in order to sustain this degree of unprecedented growth.

Networking services and blockchain processing will probably be the first major regular uses.

Mining Tokens without Traditional Silicon

Any computation that a traditional computer could solve could also be solved using a quantum computer. Certain problems can be solved much more quickly by them, however, which gave rise to the phrase quantum supremacy. The hashing sums used by most major blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are little more than algebraic calculations, meaning that they lend themselves well to take advantage of this concept of quantum supremacy.

Security experts have been suggesting that the integer factorization algorithms used for public key cryptographic systems could be feasibly broken by quantum computers working out their hashes. While this might be concerning to those who fight cyber-crime, it provides a very interesting opportunity to cryptocurrency miners.

A single quantum computer installation would probably cost around the same as traditional x86_64 big iron mainframe technology yet do more work in terms of performance per watt.

Since Bitcoin mining counts for around half a percent of all electrical usage in the entire world, this is good news in more ways than one. Network service technicians are likely to start looking into these solutions too.

Building Competitive Quantum Servers

Email providers that want to take advantage of this same technology often run into the problem that they don’t have any real system software packages that would let them deploy the same services that they normally run. You can’t just expect to leverage quantum supremacy to speed up a sendmail daemon, after all.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of promise, however, because some engineers have been at least somewhat successful in turning quantum computers into Unix workstations.

While you could theoretically redesign email software to run in a bare-metal environment in order to leverage any perceived quantum superiority, this probably wouldn’t be very secure. Bad actors are going to attack any system that they can, so it’s almost certain that someday they’ll come up with a way of seizing control of quantum machinery. That means some form of memory protection will be necessary.

Preliminary experiments seem to suggest that GNU/Linux could run on a quantum server. Linux is, of course, one of the top options when it comes to deploying email servers, so little would have to be done in order to port software over to this new architecture. Admittedly, much of the underlying code would have to be run in some kind of virtual machine, but there have already been a number of architectures like this that have actually seen a wide release.

Portability may also help to ensure email marketing experts start to adopt quantum computing technology to solve their business problems. It’s easy to imagine a future where inexpensive VPN hosting services run on remote quantum computers that email marketers simply connect to like they were any other server.

Emulation features running in a hardware layer might also make quantum computers popular with those who have to run Java-based software.

Constructing a Real JVM

Anyone who thinks Java is on its way out hasn’t looked at all of the Internet of Things devices that rely on the technology. All true Java code runs in something called the Java Virtual Machine, which is essentially an emulation spec sheet for a device that’s never existed. It’s a lot like the Z-Machine technology that powers Zork.

Unlike Zork, however, Java can be expanded to do just about anything you might want it to, which has forced some hardware developers to come out with actual semiconductors that work like mock JVM devices.

Deploying a JVM emulation layer on quantum hardware would be far more efficient, however, especially as far as large-scale database operations are concerned.

Other platforms, like Microsoft’s Azure ecosystem, can be deployed on commercial quantum hardware from top players in the space like IBM. That being said, it’s likely that Java will be in a rather unique position to benefit from the transition considering the somewhat unusual method that Java applets use to deploy themselves. It’s a bit ironic as many industry pundits have been talking about Java’s demise for years now.

Countless new applications for quantum technology are likely to come around in the next few years. Nevertheless, it’s probably these mundane ones that are going to encourage adoption more than anything else.

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