The race is on to develop commercial quantum computers. The breakthroughs they promise — new ways of simulating materials, optimizing processes and improving machine learning — could transform society, just as today's digital computers have done. But the route to delivering economic benefits is uncertain. The digital revolution took decades and required businesses to replace expensive equipment and completely rethink how they operate. The quantum computing revolution could be much more painful1.
Quantum computers operate in a completely different way from digital computers, and can potentially store and analyse information more efficiently. Digital computers essentially use on–off switches and process binary 'bits' of information (0s and 1s). Quantum computers encode information in the quantum state of atoms, electrons and photons, known as qubits. These qubits can represent many states at once and be combined or 'entangled', thereby speeding up calculations.
In the long run, businesses adopting quantum computing should have a competitive edge over others. Yet, in the short term, it's unclear to what extent the introduction of these machines will prove commercially valuable.
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