Quantum computers, once fully scaled, could lead to breakthroughs on many fronts — medicine, finance, architecture, logistics.

First, it’s important to understand why quantum computers are superior to the conventional ones we’ve been using for years:

In conventional electronic devices, memory consists of bits with only one value, either 0 or 1. In quantum computing, a quantum bit (qubit) exhibits both values in varying degrees at the same time. This is called quantum superposition. These ubiquitous states of each qubit are then used in complex calculations, which read like regular bits: 0 and 1.

Since qubits can store more information than regular bits, this also means quantum computers are capable of processing greater quantities of information. Having four bits enables 16 possibilities, but only one at a time. Four qubits in quantum superposition, however, let you calculate all 16 states at once. This means that four qubits equal 65,500 regular bits. Each qubit added to the quantum computing system increases its power exponentially.

To put things in perspective, a top supercomputer can currently accomplish as much as a five- to 20-qubit computer, but it’s estimated that a 50-qubit quantum computer will be able to solve computational problems no other conventional device can in any feasible amount of time.

This “quantum supremacy” has been achieved many times so far. It’s important to mention that this doesn’t mean the quantum computer can beat a traditional one in every task — rather, it shines only in a limited set of tasks specially tailored to outline its strengths. Also, a quantum computer still needs to overcome many obstacles before it can become a mainstream device.

But once it does, its computational power will boost science and industries that profit from it.

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