Quantum computing is the next type of computing that is going to be important. How do I know? Because people throw the term around in casual conversation the way they add a cloud, machine learning, or blockchain reference to statements to make themselves seem smart. It’s like, fine, you know I can’t argue with you now because I don’t know what you’re talking about, but do go on.

Now I don’t have a STEM background at all, but I still think that I should be able to understand WTF everyone else is talking about. So I’m setting out on a quest to understand quantum computing. Please join me as I demystify this mysterious new technology, and try not to laugh too hard.

First stop: Google.

I thought I could start by just Googling what quantum computing is. I thought wrong. The definition uses words like “superposition” and entanglement,” which sound vaguely inappropriate and specifically confusing. Google also helps me out with this little nugget: “A quantum computer is a device that performs quantum computing.” Oh do go on.

Upon further reflection that included stuffing a bunch of popcorn down my gullet and singing half of a Mariah Carey song loudly, I come to the realization that quantum computing is somehow different than regular computing. Oh wait – that’s in the definition I’m staring at.

But, wait, I see the word binary – that’s a word I know. Ok so quantum computing doesn’t rely on zeros and ones. Interesting…..

This reminds me of those characters in Star Trek, the Bynars, who communicated exclusively in binary. They were cool little guys. In the TNG episode “11001001” the Bynars even upload all their binary into the Enterprise’s computers. Could this be a clue to quantum computing? Perhaps I should rewatch this episode to find out!

Four hours and five episodes later…………………

Ok, I’m back. That episode is really good, and I had forgotten that the Bynars travelled in pairs. So cute. I am no further from solving the mystery of quantum computing, and I think on some level I knew that I was only making up an excuse to find temporary reprieve from my perilous quest. But no! For the sake of everyone reading this, I won’t give up so easily.

After further research, I’ve encountered a promising definition from Forbes:

On a scientific level, quantum computers work within the world of atomic particles and subatomic particles. In this world, the particles exist in multiple states at a time, allowing a quantum computer to operate in those same multiple states. This goes beyond the laws of physics and operates in an entirely different way than the one state of time that we exist within. It’s easy to immediately feel confused by this concept because human beings don’t know what it’s like to exist in multiple states of time.

What fresh hell is this?

I am beginning to wonder if an altered consciousness is necessary to unlocking the secrets of quantum computing. I really thought Forbes would help me out here, as it’s geared towards business-oriented people like me. If business-oriented people sat at home eating popcorn and singing Mariah Carey on a Tuesday afternoon, that is. It’s my life, and I don’t want to talk about it.

Credit: SKS2K6 (Wikimedia), CC BY-SA 3.0

Actually when I read on, Forbes does make a few good points: quantum computing conserves energy, vastly improves cyber security, and is great for processing large data sets. So basically, quantum computing will solve all our problems by completely bypassing the laws of physics. NBD.

I’m getting sort of a Wizard of Oz vibe from this whole thing, to be perfectly honest. Some magical man behind the curtain will solve all my problems as long as I don’t pry too deep into how, exactly, he will do this.

Sounds like a steaming heap of something that came out of a horse to me.

Perhaps if I watch The Wizard of Oz, I can gain more insight into how mysterious entities like wizards and quantum computing function….it’s worth a try.

……………………four hours, one movie, and two naps later………………………

I’m back to finally crack this quantum computing nut once and for all! The Wizard of Oz didn’t really help me out, and I got sidetracked thinking about how hard Judy Garland’s life was. Now there was a talent snuffed out too soon. Perhaps if we were all Bynars, life would be less difficult. We’d always have a little buddy that’s just the opposite of us….or, no, that sounds like having a cat. Did Judy Garland have a cat?

Anyway. I’m reading a new article now. It’s telling me that quantum computers use a thing called qubits, and that, in contrast to conventional computer chips, these super computer chips can be both zeroes and ones at once. That’s cool and all……But why would they want to? (I mean technically, the answer to that question is because it’s faster, but existentially, I’m not sure these scientists can answer that.)

Apparently the qubit must be kept very cold to work properly. And also, this is how it’s described: “This 1-inch-long wafer is made of synthetic sapphire topped with a 100-nanometer-thin layer of printed aluminum.” Why synthetic sapphire? Was the wafer born in September? Everything about this description is wild, and I am coming to realize that I will never be able to understand this thing without first having a solid grasp of at least grade 10 physics and possibly a PhD in whatever this is.

To be honest, it sort of seems like the scientists are just making things up to mess with us at this point, and I really don’t blame them. At this point, they probably just want us to stop talking about blockchain. They’re not wrong.

As I make one final attempt to figure out what quantum computing is, I come across another Forbes article. Fool me twice, Forbes….

Ok so apparently once quantum computing becomes the norm, all of our security protocols will be rendered useless, and the only way to prevent this is — you guessed it — quantum resistant cryptography. And thankfully, “This encryption cannot be broken mathematically because it is protected by the laws of physics.” Good?

Now this is starting to seem like the world’s most terrifying game of rock paper scissors: STEM wars edition. Physics trumps mathematics, but what trumps physics?

I’ll tell you what trumps physics: Mariah Carey’s beautiful voice. And my voice too when I sing her songs, but in a different, viscerally painful for others type of way, sort of like when the rock mangles those defenseless scissors. So I’m going to get back to that and hope you learned something today. Let’s see, to sum up, essentially quantum computing exists, it’s extremely elaborate, and nobody will ever understand it, probably not even the people working on it. The Bynars can’t save us now.