What is a Quantum Computer?

Sundar Pichai with one of Google's quantum computers in the Santa Barbara lab.
Sundar Pichai with one of Google’s quantum computers in the Santa Barbara lab.

A quantum computer is a new type of computer that uses quantum physics instead of binary code to process information. Normal computers use bits set to either 1 or 0 for computations. Quantum computers use quantum bits or “qubits” that can be 1 and 0 at the same time due to a principle of quantum mechanics called superposition.

This enables qubits to represent way more possible combinations of 1s and 0s simultaneously compared to normal binary bits. Just a few hundred connected qubits could represent more data than there are atoms in the whole universe! This parallel processing power makes quantum computers uniquely suited to solve certain complex problems that involve sorting through vast numbers of possibilities.

For example, designing complex molecules like medicines relies on understanding how the component atoms interact. This involves immense trial and error. Existing supercomputers would take thousands of years to model all the potential atom arrangements. A sufficiently advanced quantum computer could theoretically try all combinations at once and solve it in minutes.

Similarly, tasks like breaking cryptographic codes or finding optimal routes across globe-spanning networks with quintillions of paths become trivial with enough quantum computational muscle.

So how do we build these super powerful qubits? Qubits rely on finely tuned quantum-mechanical properties like atom spin or photon polarization persisting in delicate quantum states. Special cryogenic lab setups isolate qubits at extreme subzero cold to preserve these quantum effects that dissipate at room temperatures.

Progress is rapid but engineering extremely complex quantum systems with millions of qubits to unleash the full potential of quantum computing remains a key challenge for major players like Google, IBM, and Rigetti racing in today’s quantum space race.

While wider adoption is still years if not decades away, quantum computing promises to transform everything from medicine to finance to cybersecurity and beyond in a post-silicon quantum era. The qubits future has just begun.

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