Quantum computers: don’t get your hopes up

A lot of hype has been made in recent years about the possibility of a so called “Quantum Computer” coming on line in the next few years that will supposedly revolutionize the digital world as much as the discovery of the microchip. However, in the quest of the mainstream media to sell the public a good story about revolutionizing technology, several important questions and topics have been overlooked. But what exactly is a “quantum computer?” In the most basic terms, a quantum computer is a device much like a conventional computer that utilizes the property of protons and trapped atoms to exist in multiple states at the same time. This would allow a quantum computer to simultaneously try multiple paths when trying to reach the solution to a problem. Currently, when a conventional computer is faced with a problem, it analyzes it in a logical progression where it eliminates each and every option or possible path to the solution individually until it stumbles upon the right answer. This is sort of like someone looking through every book in a library to try and find the answer to a physics problem until they happen to find the right book. This process seems slow until the speed at which computers can do this is taken into account; however, it is still vastly inefficient and requires a lot more computing power and hardware than the quantum route to a problem. In the library analogy, a quantum computer is able to read multiple books at the same time and, therefore find the answer in a more efficient manner. While it is true that a quantum computer would be able to complete complex tasks such as factoring large numbers, code breaking or creating simulations of systems in nature that incorporate quantum mechanics incredibly quickly and efficiently, for the everyday tasks such as word processing or surfing the web, a conventional computer will work just as well as any quantum computer. On top of the limited advantages, the development of quantum computers is slow at best even though the theoretical idea for basic production and operation has been on paper for several years. However, one hopeful sign is that two breakthroughs have been made recently . The basic information packets of quantum computers, named qubits, were successfully transported between two laboratories, creating the first true “quantum network,” and another research group has reported the entangling of two qubits, making the simplest core of a quantum computer. Despite these breakthroughs, however, the reality of a quantum computer is still a long way off. Even then, the benefits for everyday people would be limited, and the overall impact on the technological world would likely be less than the mainstream media would lead the public to believe. Don’t get your hopes up.