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The theoretical superior power of quantum computers derives from the laws of nanoscale or “quantum” physics. Unlike conventional computers, which store information in binary bits that can be either “0” or “1”, quantum computers use quantum bits (or qubits) that could be in a combination of “0” and “1” at the same time. This is because quantum physics allows particles to be in different states or places simultaneously.

Quantum computer development is still in its infancy and several hardware technologies are available without any single one yet dominating. The most advanced prototypes are currently made from either a few dozen ions trapped in a vacuum chamber or superconducting circuitskept at near-absolute-zero temperature.

The crucial challenge is scaling up these small demonstrators into large interconnected qubit systems that will have enough computing power to perform useful tasks faster than classical supercomputers. To this end, another technology may eventually turn out to be more suitable. Strikingly enough, this could be the very same technology that today enables our digital society, the silicon transistor, the basic unit of information present in all microprocessors and memory chips.

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