There are some complex problems that we do not know how to solve with classical computers at any scale.

That’s because the real world runs on quantum physics. Computers that make calculations by using the quantum states of quantum bits should in many situations be our best tools for understanding it.

Researchers are working to both understand which problems are suited for quantum speedups and develop algorithms to demonstrate them. In general, it is believed that quantum computers will help immensely with problems related to optimization, which play key roles in everything from defense to financial trading.

Quantum and classical computers both try to solve problems, but the way they manipulate data to get answers is fundamentally different. This section provides an explanation of what makes quantum computers unique by introducing two principles of quantum mechanics crucial for their operation, superposition and entanglement.

Superposition is the counterintuitive ability of a quantum object, like an electron, to simultaneously exist in multiple “states.” With an electron, one of these states may be the lowest energy level in an atom while another may be the first excited level.

If an electron is prepared in a superposition of these two states it has some probability of being in the lower state and some probability of being in the upper. A measurement will destroy this superposition, and only then can it be said that it is in the lower or upper state.

Understanding superposition makes it possible to understand the basic component of information in quantum computing, the qubit. In classical computing, bits are transistors that can be off or on, corresponding to the states 0 and 1. In qubits such as electrons, 0 and 1 simply correspond to states like the lower and upper energy levels discussed above.

Qubits are distinguished from classical bits, which must always be in the 0 or 1 state, by their ability to be in superpositions with varying probabilities that can be manipulated by quantum operations during computations.

A quantum computer leverages entanglement between qubits and the probabilities associated with superpositions to carry out a series of operations (a quantum algorithm) such that certain probabilities are enhanced (i.e., those of the right answers) and others depressed, even to zero (i.e., those of the wrong answers).

When a measurement is made at the end of a computation, the probability of measuring the correct answer should be maximized. The way quantum computers leverage probabilities and entanglement is what makes them so different from classical computers.

Multiple additional applications for qubit systems that are not related to computing or simulation also exist and are active areas of research, but they are beyond the scope of this overview. Two of the most prominent areas are quantum sensing and metrology, which leverage the extreme sensitivity of qubits to the environment to realize sensing beyond the classical shot noise limit, and quantum networks and communications, which may lead to revolutionary ways to share information.

Want to learn more? Tonex offers Mastering Quantum Computing in 2 Days, a 2-day course where participants learn the principles and foundations of quantum computing. This includes learning about quantum gates, qubits, quantum circuits, and quantum algorithms as well as gaining proficiency in quantum programming using languages such as Qiskit or Quipper.

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