Why Are Quantum Computers So Expensive?

Why Are Quantum Computers So Expensive?

Quantum computers have been one of the most exciting developments in technology for the last couple of decades. Stakeholders have, for years, wanted to build a computer that can process extraordinarily challenging problems at a large scale, exponentially faster than a classic computer. However, so many interested parties are yet to understand why these computers are so expensive.

Quantum computers are not desktop computers for the general public to buy and are so expensive because they’re costly to build and maintain. Quantum computers require specialized parts that aren’t being produced at large scales. They must constantly be at nearly absolute zero operating temperatures to increase their stability, which drives up costs.

This article will discuss why quantum computers are so expensive and how they work. It’ll also look at how quantum computing will benefit society in the future. Read along to learn about the challenges that quantum computers face.

What is a Quantum Computer?

What is a Quantum Computer?
Bottom view looking up at a Quantum Computer.

Quantum computers are a new way of doing something we were already doing with classical computers. They use technology that relies on the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems that are too difficult for regular computers.

Quantum computers like some produced by IBM have the main hardware system that is currently about the size of a car and a quantum processor size that is comparable to those found in a laptop. Instead of the binary code used by classical computers of 1’s and 0’s, quantum computers store data in qubits as either a 1, a 0, or both simultaneously.

Quantum computer sizes are related to their extensive cooling systems that keep the superconducting quantum processor at a hundredth of a degree above absolute zero. Qubits operate efficiently and maintain their quantum states at -270 Celsius or -454 Farenheight. These machines are superconductors and use quantum tunneling that allows electrons to move through them without resistance.

The Reasons Why Quantum Computers Are So Expensive

The Reasons Why Quantum Computers Are So Expensive
Analyzing the costs of quantum computing.

At this time in history, Quantum computers are not equal to desktop or laptop computers in size or function and are not marketed to the general public for a home purchase or use. Quantum computers supersede these machines and are large complex, sophisticated computers mostly with cloud access managed by companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Google.

Physicists have made excellent progress in developing and designing quantum computers. In September 2020, IBM announced they had engineered one of the largest quantum computers in the world with 65-qubits. IBM wasn’t the first to do it: the first quantum computer was invented in 1998 and It had 2-qubits.

In November 2021, IBM Quantum announced its Eagle, a 127-qubit quantum processor. Still, almost all parts of a quantum computer require re-engineering and re-designing to work optimally. Moreover, even with all this progress, quantum computers remain very expensive, making them unattainable for the general public.

These are some of the main reasons behind this high price point:

The Challenge of Scaling Quantum Computing

Over the years, there have been major technological breakthroughs in quantum computing. Additionally, investors have put up billions of dollars to advance this technology. Despite all that, computing architectures and systems are still inherently unstable. Other than that, quantum computing is quite difficult to scale on a commercial level.

The machines struggle with control challenges and cost. They also contend with the complex nature of managing data through the entanglement of qubits. The latter is one of the leading reasons behind the high cost of quantum computers. Venture capital funding for the quantum computing sector saw a record of over $823 million come in for investment and that is a greater than 70 percent increase from 2020.

The state-of-the-art qubits quantum computing hardware construction and error-correction methods are currently being developed for these computers to function.

Many experts agree that a real-world usable quantum computer needs efficient error correction and that may require millions of qubits. This all makes it very expensive to run quantum computers today that are far from that goal. When companies can’t develop and sell quantum machines on a large scale commercially yet, they have to sell them at high costs to make their money back.

Developing a Quantum Machine Is Expensive

Developing a Quantum Machine Is Expensive
Design and creation of quantum computer components.

The cost of developing a large-scale quantum computer with many qubits is still prohibitively expensive. The cost of qubits can exceed tens of thousands of dollars and has to be supported by specialized electronics. These need to be housed within large controlled indoor spaces to function.

Fermilab engineers are developing new control electronics for quantum computers that cut costs and improve performance. Quantum computers utilize specialized control and readout electronics to translate between the computer’s languages and the human operator. Their new Quantum Instrumentation Control Kit, or QICK, does just that at lower costs.

If you’re only taking the hardware into account, building a functional quantum computer can cost tens of billions of dollars. Due to this, quantum machines are only available to the wealthiest and most expansive enterprises. The general public, including smaller startups, is barred from accessing this technology unless accessing cloud beta programs. The sheer cost of everything makes quantum computers very expensive. 

It Isn’t Easy To Source Specialized Parts

Building up a conventional desktop or laptop computer today on your own is relatively easy. You can order most parts online, and with minimum knowledge of setting up a PC, you’ll have a functioning computer within no time. 

However, this doesn’t apply to quantum computers as they are extremely complex. Collecting or creating specialized parts for quantum computers is vastly difficult and expensive. This has contributed to slowing down the development of this technology over the years. 

It is almost impossible to find certain specialized parts such as specialized dilution refrigerators to keep your computer almost at absolute zero. You can’t opt-out or substitute them with other components from classic computers.

Large tech giants with the resources such as Amazon, Google, and IBM have an advantage that gives them a head start in sourcing specialized parts for their quantum computers. This leaves research institutions and smaller startups in the dust, leaving alone the average consumer.

Suppliers won’t be able to sell specialized quantum computer parts to the general public anytime soon. First, there simply isn’t a significant demand outside the specialist public. Second, we’ll have to wait until the economies of scale hit off before the price of quantum computers becomes consumer-friendly.

High Demand for Specialized Quantum Computer Components vs. Low Supply

High Demand for Specialized Quantum Computer Components vs. Low Supply
Small quantum processor being held by tweezers.

Currently, there are very few companies producing parts such as cables and refrigerants. Furthermore, components such as the refrigerant gas helium-3 are challenging to obtain. Still, there is significant progress when you compare the situation with a few years ago.

When demand is significantly higher than supply, the cost of the product goes up, which is what’s happening right now with quantum computers and pretty much anything else in the economy. 

Apart from making the parts very expensive, the low supply affects the industry in other ways. Companies and startups often have to wait for extended periods for the components, significantly slowing down their research projects and research processes.

How Do Quantum Computers Work?

How Do Quantum Computers Work?
Man trying to understand Quantum Entanglement and Qubits

Quantum machines use qubits to process information, unlike the bits of classic computers. These qubits don’t have to only be on or off, but can be on and off simultaneously or on a spectrum between the two. This phenomenon is known as superposition, and it’s what makes them so powerful.

If you ask your regular computer to find its way out of a maze, it’ll try each branch independently. Doing so will eliminate every path until it settles on the correct one. “In contrast, a quantum computer goes down all the branches all at once.” That’s because it can process uncertainty efficiently. The user won’t need to start from the beginning with every attempt to solve a complicated and complex problem.

Additionally, as discussed earlier, qubits can also produce Quantum Entanglement. In this process, two particles are linked to each other even though they’re physically separate. This is such a mind-bending concept of quantum physics.

Quantum computers are extremely powerful, but just like other computers, they’re good at solving certain problems but not others. For most common tasks, classical computers remain the best current option.

How Quantum Computing May Be Beneficial for the Future

How Quantum Computing May Be Beneficial for the Future
How Quantum Computing May Be Beneficial for the Future

The next generation of quantum computers is expected to be commercially available. Once they do, they’ll become essential in some primary applications, and many industries are on the lookout to tap into this unique computer technology.

If you’re looking at the most favorable applications for quantum computing, then here are some potential areas where this technology will be applied in the future. 

Artificial Intelligence

AI - Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing
AI – Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing

Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be an essential application for quantum computing. Machine Learning AI works by learning from experience and it increases accuracy as more feedback is fed in until the computer program exhibits a certain level of “intelligence.”

Feedback in AI comes from calculating probabilities for numerous choices. That alone makes AI ideal for quantum computation. 

Artificial intelligence promises to revolutionize and disrupt all industries, from medicine to automotive. At the moment, AI is already being used to create more artificial intelligence, so its importance will continue escalating. 

Molecular Modeling

Molecular modeling involves precisely modeling molecular interactions. As it stands, this kind of quantum chemistry is highly complex, and currently, digital computers can only analyze the simplest molecules. Chemical reactions form entangled quantum superposition states, making them quantum in nature. 

Quantum computers can quickly evaluate the most complex molecular processes, unlike digital computers. It can result in more efficient products, including fertilizers, pharmaceutical drugs, and solar cells.

Cryptography

Quantum Computer Security and Cryptography
Quantum Computer Security and Cryptography

Currently, online security significantly depends on factoring large figures into primes. Digital computers do this by searching through all possible factors. It takes a lot of time to crack the code, which is impractical and costly.

Quantum computers utilizing Quantum Cryptography would perform this exponentially faster than digital computers. Cryptography has much promise with quantum computing and it is likely that traditional digital data security methods will soon become obsolete.

Financial Modeling

Modern markets are among the most complex systems today. There are already sophisticated mathematical and scientific tools that try to make accurate predictions. However, unlike most scientific fields, modern markets lack a controlled setting for running experiments. To solve this once and for all, analysts and investors are increasingly turning to quantum computing

One of the advantages of quantum computing is that it has an element of randomness, which aligns with the nature of financial markets. This is ideal because analysts usually prefer to evaluate outcomes under a massive number of randomly generated scenarios. Quantum computers also offer numerous paths for financial operations, such as arbitrage.

Particle Physics

Particle Physics
Quantum Computers in quantum entanglement Particle Physics

Quantum computing is essential for studying new physics and is agreed by physicists as something you can actually do with quantum computers now. Particle physics models are often astoundingly complex and they require a lot of time to compute their complex numerical simulations.

Quantum computing is an excellent solution if it can solve complex problems astoundingly fast, saving a lot of computing time and energy among researchers. Already, physicists are taking advantage of quantum computing.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts - Why Are Quantum Computers So Expensive?
Final Thoughts – Why Are Quantum Computers So Expensive?

One of the challenges of quantum computing is that it requires massive investment in both money and time to advance the technology. The cost has ultimately slowed down the rate of innovation, as most researchers can’t do much without significant financial backing.

Despite this, quantum computing has taken great strides over the years. Investors from all industries, including cybersecurity firms, the computer industry, and banks, are now scrambling to be part of this ecosystem.

The most exciting part is that quantum computing is still evolving and will present new opportunities once it reaches its full potential. For whatever reason, quantum computing seems especially prone to hype. 

We are not completely clear on what quantum computers will ultimately be able to do but it is very exciting to think of the possibilities together with AI.

References:

John Mortensen

I was a project manager and am a technology and science enthusiast who loves to study the latest technology, such as AI, smartphones, headphones, and software.

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