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A Computer That Thinks Like the ­niverse

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Quantum computing

Credit: John Hersey for The Boston Globe

The development of a quantum computer would be another leap forward for the computing industry, writes the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Joshua Rothman.

He says quantum computers could lead to breakthroughs to problems that existing computers have been unable to solve, such as breaking complex codes and analyzing complicated biological processes.

Quantum computing would use the uncertain, counterintuitive, probabilistic world of quantum mechanics to perform calculations, breaking through the limitations of classical computers. Quantum computing relies on the fact that qubits can contain much more information than bits. If researchers can learn to harness qubits' processing power, they could be used to work faster than traditional computers.

In 2001, IBM researchers used a huge magnet and five atoms to determine that the factors of 15 are three and five. Although this is a very simple piece of arithmetic, it is still one of the best demonstrations of quantum computing to date. Quantum computing will not work for every single hard problem, but there are several very practical problems that quantum computers would be able to solve in minutes instead of millennia, such as simulating the way very complicated atomic systems behave.

From Boston Globe
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