Quantum computing: Cheat Sheet

How superpositions and spooky action at a distance could help factor massive numbers...

...applications in the pharmaceutical industry to model complex molecules. In essence quantum machines would thrive in situations that involves lots of variables - and where, therefore, classical computers soon run out of steam.


Quantum technology could have applications in the pharmaceutical industry
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

So quantum computers don't replace classical computers, they would be used in conjunction with them to help solve particular types of hard mathematical problems?
Exactly. Quantum computers have lots of limitations which require a classical computer to step in and help out. Even when it comes to computational complexity theory they won't necessarily excel as there are some mathematical problems that might simply be unsolvable with any type of computer.

Anything else I should know?
One more thing, there is a minority of scientists who believe that building a quantum computer will turn out to be out-and-out impossible.

However, if those scientists are right, the implication of not being able to build such a machine is that quantum mechanics itself, as a description of nature, is wrong. Either way, the stakes could not be higher.

Alright, I'm intrigued. So when are we going to get one of these quantum computers - assuming we are indeed able to build them?
Another good question and one which scientists typically laugh at when asked to answer it. The short answer is that no one knows for sure - but it's certainly not going to be any time soon.

Jason Smith of Oxford University, a lecturer in the materials department and tutorial fellow at Mansfield College, said: "I think I can be fairly confident in saying we're not going to have anything which is going to be doing what you would consider to be a useful computation in the next 10 years."

Another scientist, 35-year-old Dave Bacon, assistant research professor at the University of Washington, told silicon.com he hopes to see a viable quantum computer existing outside a lab "in my lifetime" - so at the very least this technology looks likely to be decades more in the making.

I better hang on to my laptop then.
Yep, this is one upgrade that's not going to be pushing your tech kit into an early grave.