The technology harnesses quantum physics to perform calculations faster than ever

Quantum computing is the exploitation of collective properties of quantum states, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform computation. The devices that perform quantum computations are known as quantum computers. They are believed to be able to solve certain computational problems, such as integer factorization (which underlies RSA encryption), substantially faster than classical computers. The study of quantum computing is a subfield of quantum information science. Expansion is expected in the next few years as the field shifts toward real-world use in pharmaceutical, data security and other applications.

Classical computers, which include smartphones and laptops, encode information in binary “bits” that can either be 0s or 1s. In a quantum computer, the basic unit of memory is a quantum bit or qubit.

Qubits are made using physical systems, such as the spin of an electron or the orientation of a photon. These systems can be in many different arrangements all at once, a property known as quantum superposition. Qubits can also be inextricably linked together using a phenomenon called quantum entanglement. The result is that a series of qubits can represent different things simultaneously.

For instance, eight bits is enough for a classical computer to represent any number between 0 and 255. But eight qubits is enough for a quantum computer to represent every number between 0 and 255 at the same time. A few hundred entangled qubits would be enough to represent more numbers than there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum computers need to protect qubits from external interference, either by physically isolating them, keeping them cool or zapping them with carefully controlled pulses of energy. Additional qubits are needed to correct for errors that creep into the system.

Why do we need Quantum Computers?

Until now, we’ve relied on supercomputers to solve most problems. These are very large classical computers, often with thousands of classical CPU and GPU cores. However, supercomputers aren’t very good at solving certain types of problems, which seem easy at first glance. This is why we need quantum computers.