January 28th, 2021
In a nutshell, Quantum Computing is the computing paradigm that uses quantum properties in computer systems, such as superposition and quantum tunneling. Experts consider quantum computing quite advanced and the state-of-the-art of computing today, even if the specialized hardware it uses makes it a bit of a niche case study. Despite its numerous merits, quantum computing is not a panacea, even though it is considered relevant in our field, particularly in A.I. This article will explore this relationship, where Q.C. is right now, and where you can access it.
Quantum computers' performance is usually measured in Qubits (quantum bits) instead of traditional bits. Each qubit is a quantum particle in superposition and corresponds to the more rudimentary piece of data a quantum computer can handle. Qubits are not easy to maintain, and when they work in tandem, it's quite probable for the superposition to collapse unexpectedly, resulting in errors in the computations involved. So, having a certain number of qubits (the larger, the better) in a computer is quite an accomplishment. Larger numbers enable quantum computer users to tackle more challenging problems, potentially adding more value to the project at hand.
Right now, quantum computing is at a stage where the number of qubits they can handle is in the two digits. For example, IBM's quantum machine boasts 65 qubits, although the company has plans for much larger numbers soon (they expect to have a quantum machine with 1000+ qubits by 2023). However, it's important to note that each company uses a somewhat different approach, meaning that the qubits in each computer they produce are not directly comparable to each other.
Now, what about the potential disruption in data science and A.I. work due to quantum computing? Well, since our field often involves lots of heavy computations, some of them around NP-hard problems in combinatorics (e.g., selected the optimal set of features from a feature set), it can surely gain from quantum computers. That's not to say, however, that every data science or A.I. project can experience a boost from the Q.C. world. Simpler models and standard ETL work are bound to remain the same while using a quantum machine for them would waste these pricy computational resources. So, it's more likely that a combination of traditional computing and quantum computing will be normal once quantum machines become more commonplace. Additionally, for optimization-related problems, particularly those involving many variables, quantum computing may have a lot to offer. Still, whether it's worth the price is something that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Let’s now look at the various quantum computing vendors out there. For starters, we have Amazon with its AWS Quantum Computing center at Caltech. Microsoft is also a significant player, with its Azure Quantum service, utilizing a specialized language (Q#). IBM is a key player, too, along with D-Wave Systems, the two being the first to develop this technology. Google Research is Alphabet's division for this tech and is now also a player in this area. What's more, there are hardware companies too in this game, such as Intel, Toshiba, and H.P. Naturally, all the companies that have developed their Q.C. product enough to make it available do so via a cloud, since it's much more practical this way. For those who like the cloud but don't have the budget or the project that lends itself to quantum machines, the Hostkey cloud provider relies on conventional computers, including some with GPUs onboard.
You can learn more this and other relevant topics to A.I. and data science, though my book A.I. for Data Science: Artificial Intelligence Frameworks and Functionality for Deep Learning, Optimization, and Beyond. In this book, my co-author and I cover various aspects of data science work related to A.I., as well as A.I.-specific topics, such as optimization. What’s more, the book has a hands-on approach to this subject, with lots of code in both Python and Julia. So, check it out when you can. Cheers!
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Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.