From The Editor | April 19, 2024

Why Quantum Computing Will Break Your Heart

John Headshot cropped  500 px wide

By John Oncea, Editor

GettyImages-153469309 heart made of circuits

Quantum computing is a highly anticipated technology because it can tackle complex problems exponentially faster than classical computers. However, quantum faces formidable challenges before – or even if – it begins to live up to its potential.

The Princess Bride is one of the most quotable movies ever made. Take, for example:

  • “Inconceivable!” – Vizzini
  • “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die.” – Montoya
  • “I do not envy you the headache you will have when you awake. But in the meantime, rest well and dream of large women.” – Man in Black (Westley)
  • “You mocked me once. Never do it again! I died that day!” – Princess Buttercup
  • “Have fun storming the castle.” – Miracle Max

But, while I could go on for hours about that movie, this article is about what to expect from quantum computing in the future. That said, this line uttered by Wesley just before his duel with Montoya can tie the two together: “Get used to disappointment.

Introducing Quantum Computing

There have been dozens of highly anticipated technologies rolled out over the years. Some have lived up to the hype, others not so much. 3D printing, 5G, drones, GPS, cloud computing, and smartphones have, for the most part, delivered on their promise. Google Glass, cryptocurrency, 3D movies, and e-cigarettes? Eh, not so much.

Much like those innovations did in the past, quantum computing has captured the imagination of scientists, researchers, and industry leaders today because of its potential to deliver unprecedented computational power and ability to solve complex problems at unimaginable speeds.

However, amidst the fervor and anticipation, there lies a sobering reality: quantum computing may not live up to the lofty expectations set by its proponents. There are several reasons why the journey to practical quantum computing may ultimately prove to be disappointing, but first let’s take a look at why quantum is generating so much buzz.

Quantum Computing Will Transform Our World

In the vast landscape of technological advancements, quantum computing stands as a beacon of unprecedented potential. As we peer into the future, it becomes increasingly evident that quantum computing will not merely be an incremental improvement over classical computers; it will be a game changer that reshapes our understanding of computation, problem-solving, and the very fabric of reality.

The reason for this is qubits and superposition. Classical computers operate with binary bits (0s and 1s), but quantum computers introduce a new unit of information: the qubit. Unlike classical bits, qubits can exist in a superposition of both 0 and 1 simultaneously.

This quantum superposition enables parallelism on an astronomical scale. Imagine solving complex problems by exploring multiple paths simultaneously — something inconceivable for classical machines.

In addition, quantum algorithms promise exponential speedup for specific tasks. Problems that would take classical computers millennia to solve could be cracked in seconds by quantum counterparts. For instance:

  • Drug Discovery: Quantum simulations can analyze molecular interactions, accelerating drug development and revolutionizing healthcare.
  • Materials Science: Quantum computers can explore novel materials, leading to breakthroughs in energy storage, superconductors, and more.
  • Optimization: From supply chain logistics to financial portfolio management, quantum optimization algorithms promise efficiency gains.

Encryption and security present a double-edged sword when applied to quantum computers. While they can break existing encryption methods, they also offer the potential for quantum-safe cryptography through methods such as quantum key distribution. This involves the process of quantum entanglement which allows for unbreakable encryption keys, safeguarding sensitive data.

Quantum computing will be beneficial in the fight against climate change as well. Quantum simulations can model complex physical systems, aiding climate research, fusion energy development, and understanding fundamental particles. Financial modeling is another area that quantum computing will help by providing risk assessment and portfolio optimization that can reshape global markets.

Quantum computing is not a distant dream — it’s knocking at our door. As organizations, governments, and researchers invest billions, we stand on the brink of a new era. The quantum revolution is not simply faster computing, it is rewriting the rules of computation and unlocking the secrets of the universe.

On The Other Hand

There is no doubt quantum computing is a revolutionary technology with immense potential. However, the timeline for practical quantum computing breakthroughs is highly uncertain. Experts disagree on when we might see a quantum computer capable of cracking current encryption or solving complex optimization problems. It could take decades, not the near-term time frames often hyped.

Quantum bits (qubits) are notoriously delicate. They require extreme cold temperatures (near absolute zero) to function properly. Scaling up to thousands or millions of qubits while maintaining stability is a monumental challenge. Beyond that, quantum computers are error-prone due to decoherence — the loss of quantum information. Error correction is complex and resource intensive.

Also, quantum will be a niche application, at least for the foreseeable future. Quantum algorithms excel in specific areas (like factoring large numbers), but their broader applicability remains uncertain.

Another consideration is can a technology be truly significant if it remains inaccessible and unaffordable to most of the world. Quantum computers are currently accessible to research institutions and a handful of tech giants. The average person won’t have one in their home anytime soon.

There are also ethical dilemmas to consider including ensuring responsible use. The advent of practical quantum computing raises profound ethical and security concerns. Quantum computers have the potential to break widely used cryptographic protocols, rendering many existing systems vulnerable to attacks. This poses a significant risk to cybersecurity and could undermine trust in digital infrastructure.

Additionally, the implications of quantum computing for privacy, surveillance, and other societal issues are not fully understood, raising questions about how this powerful technology will be governed and regulated. And, as quantum technology evolves, some jobs may become obsolete. Preparing the workforce for this shift is crucial.

Mainstreaming technology leads to real-world impact and, despite progress, practical quantum applications are elusive. While they excel at certain mathematical problems, it's unclear if they will offer significant speedups for problems in finance, optimization, or other business domains that companies are excited about. Because of that, quantum computing won’t suddenly replace classical computers. It’ll likely complement them, solving specific problems more efficiently.

Quantum computers are still extremely difficult to build and scale up. Despite the progress made, current quantum computers have only a few dozen “noisy” qubits, far short of the millions or billions needed to outperform classical computers on real-world problems. Achieving the required error correction and stability for large-scale quantum computers remains an enormous technical hurdle.

The Truth May Lie Somewhere In The Middle

Up to this point, quantum computing has been largely marketing hype. The business sector doesn’t seem to have any real understanding of what they would even do with a generalized quantum computer and governments have been pouring money into it because breaking encryption is one of the main practical uses. However, there are cryptographic systems that are completely immune to quantum computers so quantum adoption will only encourage hackers to adopt different techniques.

That said, governments have been collecting and storing absurd amounts of data so that when quantum computing does arrive there will be massive amounts of already communicated classified and personal information to be crunched.

But quantum computing isn’t likely to impact our daily lives any time soon. It can solve certain difficult computer science problems and is already changing how we use encryption to protect things, but most people will never even notice those things.

the promise of quantum computing is undeniably tantalizing, it is essential to temper expectations with a healthy dose of realism. The path to practical quantum computing is paved with technical, scalability, and applicability challenges that may prove more formidable than initially anticipated.

Moreover, the societal and ethical implications of widespread quantum adoption raise complex questions that demand careful consideration. While quantum computing undoubtedly holds potential for transformative breakthroughs, the road ahead may be longer and more arduous than many expect. As such, managing expectations and investing in research and development with a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges will be crucial in navigating the future of quantum computing.

Quantum computers are not yet as advanced as electronic ones. They are roughly at the same level of technical maturity that electronic computers were at when vacuum tubes were still in use, which was about 60 or 70 years ago. For quantum computing to progress, qubits need to be made much smaller, cheaper, and more dependable, similar to the transistor moment that electronic computing experienced. It's uncertain when that moment will come, or if it will ever come at all. Until then, there's no guarantee that quantum computing will have any significant impact on our lives.


Thanks to the following sources for much of the information provided above: Medium, Forbes, Time, Nature, Techopedia, The Quantum Insider, and MIT Technology Review.