Things you need to know about quantum computers

Things that pop-sci articles don’t often tell you

1. They are just computers

How often do you think about how Facebook looks at the levels of the transistors? I’m guessing probably never. You wiggle your mouse and stare at your screen, and think little about the magic going on in the hot, noisy box.

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2. Just because they are quantum, doesn’t mean they aren’t for you

Sci-Fi these days often seems little different than Fantasy. The writers just have to swap the word ‘magic’ with ‘quantum’, and ‘spell’ with ‘equation’. Unfortunately, this probably makes it seem like anything quantum is mysterious and arcane, to be used only by Wizards (or people with PhDs, at least).

3. They can do simple things

If you’ve heard about quantum computers, you’ve probably heard that we are building them because they can solve problems too complex for normal computers. And they do it by invoking all kinds of quantum stuff. The takeaway message seems to be: they do complicated things in a complicated way.

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A superposition of emoticons I made while watching Iron Man 2

4. They aren’t almost here

This year, the announcement of a 72 qubit device came with fancy logos, T-shirts, and a party with people dressed in carpets. So this is where we are at in terms of progress: even a device smaller than 100 qubits deserves warrant an invasion of humanoid carpets.

5. D-Wave aren’t in the race. They are running a race of their own.

There’s a company called D-Wave that basically has a fancy quantum slide rule. It might turn out to be extremely useful at certain tasks (like a slide rule). And it might arguably be a computer (like a slide rule). But it isn’t what we usually call a quantum computer, and D-Wave qubits shouldn’t be directly compared to anyone else’s qubits. So if they say they have zillions of them, it still doesn’t mean that the full promise of quantum computing is around the corner.

Written by

Wrangler of qubits. Drinker of tea. Father.

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