Making quantum computing less scary

If the words quantum computing scare you, be at the Supply & Demand rooftop bar at Esplanade Mall tomorrow at 6.30pm.

Associate Professor Troy Lee, from Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, will be there to help you face your fears - by breaking down the myths and complexities of quantum computing in his talk titled "What quantum computing cannot do".

"I want to help people cut through the hype when they read popular articles about quantum computing," said Prof Lee, 40, also a principal investigator at the Centre of Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore.

To make the talk more fun, he will explain the concepts of quantum computing using analogies with more familiar things, he added.

In classical computing, information is stored as bits and can exist in two states - 1 or 0. In quantum computing, however, information is stored as quantum bits, or qubits, in which the stored value can exist as 1, 0, or in any proportion between 0 and 1. This gives quantum computers their computing power.

One common misconception about quantum computers, he said, is that they can find, simultaneously, all the possible solutions for a computational problem before they pick the best one. But the way quantum computers actually work is much more "subtle", he added.

His talk, along with another on the same night about the creation of quantum computer chips using diamonds, is part of the Pint of Science festival.

Using the analogy of finding a ball hidden under only one out of 1,000 cups, Prof Lee said a quantum computer searches for the best solution by following a designed "quantum algorithm", from which it increases the probability of finding a "good" solution (where the ball is) and decreases the probability of finding a "bad" one (where the ball is not).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Making quantum computing less scary'. Print Edition | Subscribe