What is Quantum Computing? (And Why Should You Care?)

I’ll be honest. I decided to write this blog post because someone mentioned quantum computing to me one day, and my response was “What’s that?”. I had never really heard the term, but it sounded like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, or one of those classes in college I stayed far away from. So I decided to do a little digging about quantum computing, and here’s what I found.

Like any experienced web surfer, my first stop was wikipedia. Here is the first sentance about quantum computing: “A quantum computer is a computation device that makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data.”….ok….what? I had to read that a few times over before the words even made sense. So I dug a little deeper.

The basic idea of quantum computing is that by having computers work differently then they now do to process data, computers will be able to run much faster and do multiple things at once. Given the incredibly fast pace of the current tech industry, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to be slowing down, it is understandable that this is becoming a very popular idea.

So now that we understand the basic idea, let’s take a look at how it actually works.

According to an article on howstuffworks.com, and webopedia.com, traditional computers today work by using a binary system. They encode information into what are called “bits” using binary code, which is made up of 1 and 0. Basically, traditional computers can only exist within two states- the 1 and the 0, and they are limited to only performing one task, or one set of calculations, at one time.

Quantum computing however, theorizes that be making use of the way matter particles, atoms and nuclei, interact with each other, an idea grown out of quantum physics, we can speed up computers. It allows for the existence between the two states of the 1 and the 0. This encoded information is known as “quantum bits”, or “qubits”, which make up the computer’s processor and memory. Because these “qubits” can exist in multiple states simultaneously, they are not limited to performing only one action at a time. This means that a quantum computer can run much faster than a regular computer.

Quantum computing is still in the very early stages. Less than 35 years ago, a physicist named Paul Benioff first applied quantum theory to computers. Since then, basic quantum computers have been built that can perform certain calculations, but having a quantum computer that can perform all the tasks of a traditional computer is still years away from development, and most of the work being done on quantum computing now is still theoretical. Currently, quantum computing is great for tasks like cryptography, or indexing very large databases, but it is still impractical for the everyday tasks such as word processing or email.

So now the big question- why should you care? Well, because at some point down the road, quantum computing could one day replace our traditional method of computing. And when it does, it will mean even faster computers, and it will surely skyrocket our technology advancements even further and faster then we can imagine.

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