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What the Heck is a Quantum Computer?

Over the past decade or so, we’ve all heard the term ‘quantum computer’. It is used to describe some new, highly advanced type of computer that was either right around the corner or at least on its way.

But unless you’re a hard-core techie or computer scientist, you probably don’t know exactly what a quantum computer is. Or why it might be so revolutionary.  So, let’s take a look at what the hype is all about and how these new types of computers might have an impact on society and people’s lives.

What is Quantum Computing?

Quantum computing is a facet of computer science that focuses on developing technology based on the principles of quantum theory. Quantum theory attempts to explain the behavior of energy and matter at the atomic and subatomic levels. Clear as mud? Let’s dig deeper.

Current computers encode every bit of information in strings of 1s and 0s. So basically every bit of data is based on having that either or value.

Quantum computing instead uses quantum bits (or qubits) instead of 1s and 0s. These qubits harness the unique ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at the same time. So, they can be 1s or 0s at the same time. 

Well cool, but what does this mean in more practical terms? 

What can Quantum Computers Do (Potentially)?

This ability to use qubits and their unique properties allow quantum computers to handle operations at exponentially higher speeds than normal computers, while also using much less energy to operate. Quantum algorithms can be used to solve various computational problems far more efficiently than ever before. 

What the Heck is a Quantum Computer?

Traditional computers are best for everyday tasks, but quantum computers are best suited for running massively complex simulations and data analysis.

So, a quantum computer may never sit on your desk at home running the latest version of Windows.

But, it may well be used by large organizations like pharmaceutical companies, the military, financial institutions, scientific research, various manufacturers, and perhaps tech companies involved in the metaverse, to name a few. 

When will They Really Arrive?

They already exist, but continue to advance rapidly and should become available outside of computer research organizations like IBM in the years ahead. Here is a sampling of companies and businesses that are already investing in quantum computing technology.

Google is spending billions of dollars to build it’s own quantum computer by 2029. 

Manufacturing companies lke BMW, Airbus, LG Electronics and many others are all beginning to leverage quantum computing time from those now available for commercial use. Car manufacturers might use the technology to better identify where to put sensors on their automobiles for the most effective and efficient use. 

Financial companies like PayPal are looking to quantum computing for better fraud detection. While investment firms are working to determine if quantum computing can deliver better financial portfolio management. 

The military industry is looking to how this technology might help better identify threats, track missiles, or other complex tasks.

Basically, quantum computing is going to have a major impact on the technology that underpins many aspects of our society. But, it may never be something that an individual will leverage themselves, at least not for the foreseeable future.