A quantum computer is a proposed computer that would exploit the quantum mechanical nature of particles, such as electrons or atomic nuclei, to manipulate information, and utilize quantum mechanical phenomena to exceed classical time complexity limitations. In a standard computer of today, data is stored in microscopic groves on a hard disk, and work by manipulating bits that can exist in one of two states, (0 or a 1), or left blank. A device then reads these symbols and blanks, and gives the machine instructions to perform a certain action. This technology is remarkable, but science has found a better and more efficient way to perform these actions, and do so in quantum computers. In quantum computers, data is represented by the quantum properties of a either a single molecule or set of molecules, and data is stored in something called quantum binary digits, or “qubits.” Qubits represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons and their respective control devices that are working together to act as memory and a processor.
A quantum computer does this by hitting the information-containing molecule with short pulses of radiation. Quantum computers also aren’t limited to the two states of 1 and 0 like a standard or “classic” computer. Quantum computers encode information which can exist in a 1, 0, or anything in-between called a superposition. This gives the quantum computer nearly limitless potential, and in theory can become millions of times more powerful than even our top of the line super computers.
Quantum computers can compute, encode, and decode information much faster than the computers of today. This is why governments all over the world are looking to the technology of the quantum computer for security. With a quantum computer no information would be safe, the quantum computer would decode it in seconds. But, if a quantum computer were used to encrypt information, no computer today would be able to read it. That is why all over the world people are watching the progress in this technology very closely, and are eager to get their hands on it first. Unfortunately for them, quantum computers are still a long way off. At the very least this technology is ten or twenty years away from being practical. As of 2008 quantum computers have only been able run at 16 qubits. This computer was made by a Canadian company called D-Wave, and was able to solve a complex sudoku puzzle. This is a large step in to making a practical quantum computer, and if computer technology keeps advancing at its current rate we may see them in our homes, schools, and businesses sooner than we think.