Quantum computing is a practise that uses quantum physics to create computers that are incredibly powerful. In a standard computer, values are stored in bits that can either be in the state of 0 or the state of 1. In quantum computers however, values are stored in quantum bits or “qubits”. These subatomic particles allow for data to be stored in both states simultaneously. The qubit is constantly storing both 0 and 1. By storing multiple different outcomes in one qubit, the storage needed is reduced and the possibilities of making complicated future predictions are endless.

In a study published by in the journal Nature Communications, physicists introduced the idea of using a quantum simulator to predict 16 different future outcomes. All of these possible outcomes were encoded into a single photon of light which moved down multiple different pathways simultaneously and passing several sensors. One of the physicists leading this project, Mile Gu, said “It’s sort of like Doctor Strange in the ‘Avengers: Infinity War” movie. Before the final battle in the movie, the Doctor looks forward in time and sees 14 million futures. To do this, “he does a combined computation of all these possibilities to say, ‘OK, if I changed my decision in this small way, how much will the future change?’ This is the direction our simulation is moving forwards to.”

The researchers tested their quantum engine using a model called the perturbed coin. Mile Gu explained “Imagine there’s a box, and inside it is a single coin. At each step of the process, someone shakes the box a little bit, so the coin has a small probability of flipping.” In a normal coin toss, the outcome is always equally heads or tails, but the outcome of each perturbed toss depends on the state the coin was in previously. The researchers ran two different versions of the coin experiment with which the box was shook stronger and shook weaker. In each experiment there were 16 possible combinations which are encoded into a single photon which shows the probability of every possible outcome based on how hard the box was shaken.

Right now, the computer power has a limit which means the team’s simulator can look at only 16 possible futures are once, and currently only for flipping a coin. But as quantum computers become more powerful, large, and commonplace, these simulators could be utilised to see infinite futures with infinite clarity. This is the beginning of complex machine learning and could pass the next big hurdle to creating fully sentient AI. The possibilities are endless.