What Is a Quantum Computer, and Why Is Google Building One?

Ethics Asylum

You may have seen headlines that Google is working on a quantum computer chip with researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara. But there are some questions you might have before we get into the specifics of the initiative. What is a quantum computer? What can it do? Further, what is Google planning to do with a quantum computer once it’s built one?

Let’s start at the beginning: what is a quantum computer? The University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing says that quantum computing is “essentially harnessing and exploiting the amazing laws of quantum mechanics to process information.” Quantum mechanics, in turn, encompasses the mechanics of the motion and interaction of subatomic particles.

A quantum computer is different from a traditional computer in the way that it processes information. A traditional computer uses strings of “bits,” which encode information in zeroes and ones. A quantum computer uses qubits, or…

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