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Trying to write a brief introduction to the field of quantum computing feels like something a quantum computer should probably tackle. Instead, we only have my brain power to access, so my apologies in advance.

I have long been fascinated by quantum mechanics, an area of physics describing the behaviors of atoms and subatomic particles such as electrons and photons. This is the strange, subterranean realm of nature where the laws of Newtonian physics break down.

What I hadn’t understood until I got to know Doug Finke, editor and publisher of the Quantum Computing Report, is that we built our digital world on what’s known as ‘classical computing.’

Our entire computing infrastructure is founded upon the basic principles of physics and math discovered in the 19th century, such as electromagnetism and Boolean logic, from the lowliest bargain-priced desktop PC, to the snazziest new smartphone, to a supercomputer.

Quantum computing, on the other hand, leverages the insights of quantum physicists from the 1920s and ‘30s, including Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and others, to create an entirely new kind of computing.

Why go to all that trouble? The simple answer is to number-crunch at mind-numbing scale and speed.

Doug gave me this analogy: Imagine you’re a traveling salesperson and you need to drive the shortest route between four cities. Seems easy enough. But let’s say your boss says you need to add a dozen more cities. Then it gets more complicated and you may need to access a classical computing device to get your answer.

But what if the number of cities is 100 or more? Well, the variables are so great that even our best supercomputers can’t figure out the optimal solution, at least not in any amount of time that would be useful. That’s where quantum computing comes in.

The goal of quantum computing is to leverage phenomena found at the subatomic particle level to deliver mathematical answers millions of times faster than today’s highest-performing computing systems.

How exactly does it accomplish that amazing feat? We have Doug help answer that question in our post next week.