Overall, research and development in the computing field is booming. Artificial intelligence and machine learning software take an enormous amount of processing power.
Growth in these fields has spurred the development of high-performance microchips, including ones from IBM. Other areas with rapid growth include 3-D printing, cloud technology, and drones. Overall, the most popular category of patents are related to hardware and software for digital data processing.
IBM had the highest projected number of patent family applications in 2017, and 9,043 patents were assigned to the technology company. For the 25th year in a row, IBM received more patents than any other company. IBM’s 9,043 patents include 1,400 related to artificial intelligence and 1,200 related to cybersecurity. It also obtained patents for simplifying blockchain transactions and machine learning patents involving autonomous vehicle behavior in emergencies.
The age of quantum computing is here
The pace of patent activity also shows that the age of quantum computing is near. Quantum computing patent activity has risen by over 400 percent in the past three years. In addition to private companies like IBM, universities like Harvard and MIT have also made enormous contributions to quantum computing, as shown by their academic patents.
Before we can delve into why quantum computing is so exciting, it is important to lay out some fundamentals. Everything in traditional computer science is based on the notion of 1s and 0s. A “bit,” the most basic data storage unit, is either 1 or 0. It is either ON (1) or OFF (0). Thus, a bit can be in either of two states – or in other words, represent a maximum of two things.
As more bits are added, there are a growing number of states that those bits can represent. Specifically, the possibilities grow exponentially with a base of 2 (representing the possibilities of 1 or 0). For example, the common unit of data storage called a “byte” is composed of 8 bits. Thus, a byte can represent 28 (or 256) states. But imagine what could be represented if instead of 2, the base was 3, or 4, or even 10. Enter the potential of quantum computing.
Quantum computing—the collision between IT and physics
Storage of information has gotten smaller over the years, so the theory is, once we begin storing information on things as small as a single atom or particle, those small things and the information stored therein will obey the laws of quantum theory. Importantly, the unique characteristics of certain particles allow multiple states to exist at the same time. Thus, you are no longer confined to just 1 and 0.
For this reason, quantum computing is often called the collision between IT and physics. The idea of multiple states existing at the same time is at the core of why quantum computing has so much potential. Quantum bits, or “qubits,” can represent an exponentially greater amount of data than traditional bits. This has enormous implications for data storage, computing power, and encryption.
The theoretical underpinnings of quantum physics have been researched for decades, but putting these ideas to use is incredibly complex. Scientists and engineers at IBM and elsewhere are racing to build stable computers that can reliably and predictably harness these particle interactions.
If this all sounds complex, you are not alone. After all, the renowned theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was quoted as saying, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”
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