Quantum Computing Meets AI: An Unprecedented Leap Forward

Jimmy G.
6 min readSep 19, 2023

Nearly 15 years ago, when studying chemical engineering, I was intrigued by the concept and evolution of quantum computing, which was discussed in my quantum mechanics course. It was fascinating to combine the notion of quantum mechanics and machines to operate at speeds billions or even trillions of times faster than our most advanced supercomputers today. To put it in perspective, the efficiency of these quantum computers compared to our current standards is like comparing a Formula 1 car’s speed to that of an ant. Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around Generative AI and its impressive machine-learning capabilities. Imagine coupling that with the power of supercomputers. The potential opportunities are endless, but so can its ability to wreak havoc.

What is Quantum Computing?

At their core, traditional computers operate using binary bits — either a 0 or a 1. This binary system forms the foundational language of these machines. For a practical illustration, binary computers process information sequentially. For instance, a 3-bit system can represent any one of eight possible values (from 000 to 111) at a single moment.

Quantum computing harnesses the laws of nature and quantum mechanics. Quantum computing is based on quantum bits, known as ‘qubits’, which, based on the principle of quantum superposition, can represent both 0 and 1 simultaneously. The most famous analogy to explain the phenomenon of superposition is “Schrödinger’s cat”. I found this analogy unsettling, perhaps by the thought of discovering a dead cat inside a box. I prefer instead the coin analogy. Consider a coin being flipped. In the world we’re familiar with, a coin has two possible outcomes when flipped: heads or tails. However, imagine a coin in the quantum realm — before it lands, it’s not merely heads or tails; it’s both simultaneously. Only when it settles do we observe one of the outcomes. Similarly, a 3-qubit system can be in a superposition of all eight values, but when measured, it collapses to one of those states.

(Source: “Why Quantum Computers Will Be Super Awesome, Someday”, Bloomberg QuickTake)

When it comes to ‘entanglement’, think of two gloves, one for each hand. If you separate them, place them in two different boxes, and then travel a great distance with one box, the moment you open your box and see, for example, a left glove, you instantly know the other distant box contains the right glove. Similarly, in the quantum world, qubits can become entangled so that the state of one immediately influences the state of the other, no matter the distance between them.

This combined power of superposition and entanglement allows quantum computers to operate in ways classical computers can’t fathom. Some quantum computers even have the potential to outpace our current supercomputers by trillions of times. As an illustration, Google reported that they achieved a quantum computation in just 200 seconds — a task that would’ve taken today’s most advanced supercomputers over 10,000 years to execute.

Today, however, quantum computing is still in the developmental phase. Operating a quantum computer is extremely costly, requiring near absolute zero temperatures (-273.15°C or 0 Kelvin) to operate in a superconductor state and minimize thermal noise (in other words, mistakes). For those who remember their chemistry class, that’s colder than outer space and considered the lowest temperature that can theoretically be reached. Tech giants like Google, IBM, and Microsoft are at the forefront. Despite their achievements, widespread adoption might be decades away.

Google’s Sycamore Quantum Computer (Source: Rocco Ceselin/Google)

AI’s Evolution, From Learning to Self-sufficiency?

At its essence, AI revolves around enabling machines to perform tasks in a manner reminiscent of human abilities. However, a defining characteristic of next-generation AI, especially Generative AI (Gen AI), is the unparalleled speed at which it can make decisions and assimilate new information. Unlike humans, who may require time to process, analyze, and respond, advanced AI systems can sift through vast quantities of data in mere fractions of a second to arrive at well-informed decisions.

Furthermore, with the integration of quantum computing, the learning curve of such AI systems is exponentially accelerated. This means they can adapt, evolve, and innovate at previously thought impossible rates. Traditional learning methods that take humans years could be condensed into seconds or minutes for these advanced AI models. We’ll have an extraordinary tool at our disposal that can help push the boundaries of science and technology even further.

Considerations of this Power Combo

When we think about combining quantum computing with AI, we imagine a future full of exciting possibilities. Sure, some might joke about a future similar to “Terminator”, with Skynet taking over the world, but until that happens, there are major considerations to keep an eye out for.

  1. Data Privacy: As quantum computers can potentially crack today’s encryption methods, data privacy is at risk. For example, banking transactions that were once secure could become vulnerable, exposing financial data and creating global economic vulnerabilities. Even blockchain’s touted failproof technology is at risk of being compromised.
  2. Ethical and Regulatory Concerns: If an AI powered by quantum computing makes decisions, the sheer speed might make human intervention or oversight impossible. In case of a wrong decision, who will be held responsible? Can AI entities be considered legal persons?
  3. Economic and Societal Disruption: This concern is obvious and already visible. We will see significant job loss or displacement in certain sectors as AI and machines advance, even faster than with past technological shifts. We’re already witnessing strikes globally, especially in fields like the movie and creative industries, where professionals claim AI is already taking over their roles.
  4. Unpredictability: Enhanced by the power of quantum computing, AI continues to operate and evolve at blistering rates in real-time, and its decision-making processes may grow increasingly elusive. Prominent figures in the industry confess that explaining AI’s rationale is nearly impossible. While this unpredictability offers a unique advantage — enabling AI to surpass human limitations — it also presents a threat of monumental magnitude, akin to the threat to humanity of nuclear technology.
  5. Technological Monopolies: If one organization or nation achieves a significant lead in this technology, it could dictate global economic, political, and social norms, leading to a massive imbalance in global power dynamics. For example, the convergence of AI and quantum computing could give any nation an unprecedented advantage in cyberwarfare to effectively disable enemy communications, rapidly analyze reconnaissance data, and devise intricate attack plans. Furthermore, this tandem technology could exponentially accelerate R&D efforts, potentially developing more sophisticated and lethal weapons.

The fusion of quantum computing and AI is one of the most exhilarating frontiers of technology. It promises to reshape our world in ways we’re just starting to fathom. However, the dawn of the AI revolution, especially when supercharged with quantum computing, plunges us into an era of colossal unknowns. Will this unprecedented power be used for the betterment of humanity, or could it inadvertently lead to our own undoing? Personally, every conceivable outcome is currently on the table. Only through global collaboration, unwavering ethics, and stringent controls can we hope to guide this force, ensuring it doesn’t spiral into a runaway reaction of unimaginable magnitude.

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Jimmy G.

Jimmy is curious and unapologetically opinionated. He’s a management consultant, trying not to let his busy schedule get in the way of his many passions.