Technology can give us a quantum jump in medicine.


As the world fights the deadly coronavirus, we have reached the climactic point in the battle when the enemy seems to be momentarily pushing ahead. It is a cliffhanger moment in a movie when the audience is holding its breath, waiting for the protagonist to claw his or her way back to the top. We are now hunkering for cover in a hyper-connected world that has become a petri dish for pandemics. In this mayhem, some people remain focused on the mission to find the vaccine for coronavirus. The entire process is time consuming because of the clinical trials that involve weeding out vaccines that do not work. It is a trial and error process. Biotech companies are using AI (artificial intelligence) to quickly develop vaccines and scan through existing drugs to see if any of them could be repurposed. AI algorithms are used for understanding the gene makeup of the virus. AI looks for compounds that will likely bind to the coronavirus protein. It needs to muster enough power to wade through or crunch huge amounts of data at great speed. For this, we need massive compute power and our classical supercomputers are simply not enough. Underlying AI's search for the secret sauce is the raw power of physics that needs to deliver.

A revolutionary technology called quantum computing holds the promise to provide the processing power that AI needs for such computations. You may have heard that its processor chips will be 100 times faster than our classical computers. Quantum computing is modelled on the intrinsic design of nature - that's why its mere mention lights up the eyes of any geek. Quantum computer chips look fascinating, like a modern sculpture, except it is high-tech and stored in sub-zero temperature that is colder than outer space. Quantum computing research is as big as the space race of the twentieth century. Many tech stalwarts such as IBM, Google, Honeywell, Tencent, and nations like US and China are competing for pole position. But it's complicated because scientists are trying to use the atomic nuclei inside the silicon, the stuff that processors are made of. These quantum bits or qubits hold the power to explode the compute power when they are manipulated using magnetic fields. They possess the bizarre behaviour of quantum mechanics - meaning they can be in two states at the same time. Computer processors have traditionally flipped between 0s and 1s. However, quantum bits can be at 0 and 1 at the same time. One of the wonderous ways that...

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