Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured – instead of just 1s or 0s – which means they have the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.
Quantum computers, you might have heard, are magical uber-machines that will soon cure cancer and global warming by trying all possible answers in different parallel universes.
Ever since Peter Shor discovered in 1994 that a quantum computer could break most of the encryption that protects transactions on the internet, excitement about the technology has been driven by more than just intellectual curiosity.
Twenty-seven years ago, Shor showed how to do all this for the problem of factoring integers, which breaks the widely used cryptographic codes underlying much of online commerce. We now know how to do it for some other problems, too, but only by exploiting the special mathematical structures in those problems. It’s not just a matter of trying all possible answers at once.