The mega-qubit is not just a nifty bookkeeping device to track how gates affect all possible states at the same time. It underpins entanglement, a central tenet of quantum mechanics that makes a quantum computer not just another hyper-fast computer but one that solves problems in ways that cannot be duplicated on classical computers.

Although superposition is a quantum phenomena, it is at least understandable. Entanglement, on the other hand, jars our common sense. Not just ours though. It spooked Einstein too and he was never able to come to grips with this concept. Yet, if you're to write quantum algorithms, you have to learn to not only handle this counter-intuitive feature of quantum mechanics but to actually design algorithms that depend on it.

The mega-qubit and the qubelets model gives us a way to to get our arms around this bizarre concept.

To understand this uniquely quantum phenomena consider the following quantum circuit:

This circuit has a new gate that we talked about earlier. So, let's review this gate and then come back to this circuit.

Interlude: CNOT Gate

The Controlled-NOT, or CNOT gate and its cousins Controlled-Controlled-NOT (CCNOT) Controlled-Controlled-Controlled-NOT (CCCNOT) gates provide a mechanism to implement if-then type of logic in quantum computers. The CNOT gate, in particular, performs a NOToperation on a designated qubit, the target if the quantum state on another qubit, the control is $\ket{1}$. If the quantum state on the control is $\ket{0}$, the quantum state on the target is left alone.

The CNOT gate is shown as follows:

The following figure summarizes the operation of the CNOT gate:

The target qubits, in the two bottom circuits highlight that they have been switched because the control qubit is $\ket{1}$.

Back to Disentangling Entanglement

We can now visually analyze the quantum circuit shown in the beginning of this section. The H gate splits the pentagon in the top qubit so that it now has a pentagon and a triangle. These pair up with the pentagon in the bottom qubit to form a mega-qubit with two pairs, as shown on the left mega-qubit in the following figure:

To work out the mega-qubit after the CNOT gate, analyze each combination individually even though the actual quantum gate acts on them simultaneously. The new mega-qubit is the aggregate of the CNOT gate acting on each input combination.

The top shape in each combination is fed to the CNOT gate’s control qubit and the bottom shape is passed to is target qubit. Since the left pair has a pentagon on the top, it won’t be affected by the CNOT gate. The right pair, however, has a triangle $\ket{1}$ qubelet. Thus, the CNOT gate will switch the bottom pentagon $\ket{0}$ qubelet to a triangle $\ket{1}$ qubelet. As a result, the mega-qubit on the right, after the CNOT gate has operated on it, will have two pairs: one with both pentagons and the other with both triangles.

When the Measure gates inspect the state of these qubits, mega-qubit will randomly collapse to one of the two combinations in the mega-qubit. So, either a $0$ is logged in both classical registers or a $1$.

Key Concept

Here it comes. The final observation that'll help you see the mystery behind entanglement.

In each case, though, if you know the state recorded in one register, you can deduce the state in the other without actually measuring the second qubit. In other words — and this is the key concept — the quantum circuit shown previously entangles the states of the two qubits.

In fact, if you look at each qubit individually, there is nothing to suggest that one is influencing the other. For example, in the above figure, restrict your attention to the bottom qubit:

This qubit contains a pentagon $\ket{0}$ and a triangle $\ket{1}$ qubelet. If this qubit existed on its own, then when measured, it'll randomly collapse to one or the other and log a $0$ or a $1$ in the classical register. But, the mega-qubit couples it with the top qubit. So, if the top qubit collapses to the triangle, the second combination in the mega-qubit is selected. And, the bottom qubit is forced to collapse to the triangle. In other words, the act of measuring one qubit forces the state of the other. This oddball behavior where the states of different qubits are tied to each other is called entanglement.

Because the states of different qubits are intimately in lockstep without any apparent physical linkage between them, this phenomena is also called spooky action at a distance. As weird as it may sound, entangled qubits are a central concept in quantum mechanics and is the root of frustration for many scientists. But, it's a real phenomena that has been confirmed experimentally.

Using just two shapes — pentagons and triangles — and a few basic operations, we actually get to the core of quantum computing phenomena. In fact, these are not just superficial concepts that skirt around the central principles of quantum computing. In my book, I show how they are intimately tied with the standard mathematical treatment of quantum effects. These concepts are pivotal to build a strong intuition of quantum effects so that you can design algorithms for real world applications.

So, despite no one ever actually seeing a quantum state packing two states simultaneously, you write programs that imply multi-state qubits exist and can design algorithms to solve ultra-hard problems.

Where to learn more

The material in this section has been adapted from Chapter 5 of my book. In this chapter, you'll also learn how to write a quantum program for the concepts you've learned about here.