Most researchers have never seen a quantum computer. Winfried Hensinger has five. "They're all terrible," he says. "They can't do anything useful."
In fact, all quantum computers could be described as terrible. Decades of research have yet to yield a machine that can kick off the promised revolution in computing. But enthusiasts aren't concerned — and development is proceeding better than expected, researchers say.
Quantum computers could accelerate drug discovery, crack encryption, speed up decision-making in financial transactions, improve machine learning, develop revolutionary materials and even address climate change. Those claims are starting to seem plausible, and perhaps too conservative, says computational mathematician Steve Brierley.
"The short-term hype is a bit high," says Brierley, founder and chief executive of quantum-computing firm Riverlane. "But the long-term hype is nowhere near enough."
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