You’ve probably heard of quantum computing. Do you understand it? Unlikely! It’s time that you did.
The basic idea—tap into quantum physics to make immensely powerful computers—isn’t new. Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman is generally credited with first suggesting that in 1982. But in the past few years the concept has started to become more real.
Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and a pack of startups are all building and testing quantum computing hardware and software. They’re betting that these machines will lead to breakthroughs in areas such as chemistry, materials science, logistical planning such as in factories, and perhaps artificial intelligence.
It will probably be years before the technology is mature enough to be broadly practical. But the potential gains are so large that companies such as JP Morgan and Daimler are already experimenting with early machines from IBM. And you don’t have to be a giant bank or auto maker to play with quantum computing. Both IBM and Rigetti Computing, a startup that opened its own quantum computing factory last year, have launched services to help developers learn about and practice with quantum computing code.
So how do they work? You may have heard that the normal rules of reality don’t always apply in the world of quantum mechanics. A phenomenon known as a quantum superposition allows things to kinda, sorta, be in two places at once, for example. In a quantum computer, that means bits of data can be more than just 1 or 0, as they are in a conventional computer; they can also be something like both at the same time.
When data is encoded into effects like those, some normal limitations on conventional computers fall away. That allows a quantum computer to be much faster on certain tricky problems. Want a full PhD, or third-grade, explanation? Watch the video above.