The exponential growth of computing technology from the 1960s and '70s to now is one of the greatest achievements of modern science. But it doesn't really matter how far we've come if we're about to hit the limit for what we can accomplish. Our computers might be pretty awesome already, but the parts we've been reliant on have just about hit their physical limits - they're approaching the size of an atom, and it doesn't get much smaller than that. So what's next?
Well we're figuring out how to fight quantum physics with quantum physics to build the computers of the future, and this video by Kurzgesagt is here to explain how.
First up, if we're going to understand the conundrum that we're in, thanks to the physical limits of our current computing technology, we need to understand how our computers actually work right now. You probably know that computers use a binary code made up of 1s and 0s to write complex instructions that are processed by an internal network of computer chips, modules, logic gates, and transistors, but do you know exactly how all of this fits together? If not, don't worry - the video above has got your back.
Now that we've got that cleared up, we can talk about why quantum physics is suddenly making all of this much harder to improve upon as we have been over the past half-century. Transistors are basically just tiny electric switches that move electrons from one place to another, and when I say tiny, I mean TINY.
Current transistors are about 14 nanometres (1 nanometre is equal to one-billionth of a metre) which means they're about 500 times smaller than a human red blood cell. If we try to make transistors much smaller, they'll end up smaller than the electrons they're supposed to block, and you might as well throw your computer out the window at that point.
So if you can't beat quantum physics… join it? To overcome the physical limitations of our current computers, scientists are trying to harness the strange properties of particles at the quantum level to completely rewrite how we process information in the future. And if you haven't really wrapped your head around how quantum computers work, be prepared to feel really smart, because this video from Kurzgesagt explains everything you need to know. You're welcome.