The classical computing paradigm has always been tied to speed, at least in the popular imagination. Sure, in reality the goals for classical computing have always been more complex: the increasing ability to handle bigger, more numerous or just more nuanced data sets, manipulated in new ways to suss out valuable insights, and so forth. But speed is how we judge our smartphones, tablets and laptops: how fast are they? Therefore, which one is the “best”?
So it’s little wonder this illusory yardstick has carried over into discussions of quantum computing. When you read the popular press about quantum computing, it’s all about speed, speed, speed. Everything is about speed. And that sort of thinking will prevent us from grasping just what quantum computing can do for us.
First of all, classical computing’s preoccupation with speed is now viewed as antiquated and potentially harmful, as the search for speed blinded us to energy efficiency, arguably the focus of the most urgent current research and development work.
Extrapolating this quantitative fixation to quantum computing is a distraction and doesn’t capture the qualitative difference between classical computing and quantum computing.
Everyone is talking about the limitations of classical machines and how they might be overcome with a quantum computer. But too often the focus is on speed, transactional speed. I’ve literally been asked how much faster quantum computers will be at executing trades. Better yet, I’ve been asked for a chart showing speed comparisons between your standard rack mount computers you would find in a data center and quantum computers.
This simply isn’t the way we should be looking at this amazing new technology. Instead, we should be thinking of problem-solving in a way we never even thought of. That’s what quantum computers are for. These machines aren’t designed to solve problems that we’re solving today, only faster — they’re designed to solve problems we haven’t even imagined. They’re a completely new class of machine with completely new capabilities.
Think instead of the classic traveling salesman challenge: if provided with a list of towns and the distances between each one, what is the shortest possible route that includes every town yet returns to the point of origin?