A quantum computer harnesses some of the almost-mystical phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver huge leaps forward in processing power. Quantum machines promise to outstrip even the most capable of today’s—and tomorrow’s—supercomputers.
They won’t wipe out conventional computers, though. Using a classical machine will still be the easiest and most economical solution for tackling most problems. But quantum computers promise to power exciting advances in various fields, from materials science to pharmaceuticals research. Companies are already experimenting with them to develop things like lighter and more powerful batteries for electric cars, and to help create novel drugs.
The secret to a quantum computer’s power lies in its ability to generate and manipulate quantum bits, or qubits.
What is quantum supremacy?
It’s the point at which a quantum computer can complete a mathematical calculation that is demonstrably beyond the reach of even the most powerful supercomputer.
It’s still unclear exactly how many qubits will be needed to achieve this because researchers keep finding new algorithms to boost the performance of classical machines, and supercomputing hardware keeps getting better. But researchers and companies are working hard to claim the title, running tests against some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object's state before it is measured - instead of just 1s or 0s - which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.