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Link: A look at the use of quantum computing to solve optimization problems, which are devilishly difficult because of the huge number of options they entail (Bob Henderson/Wall Street Journal)

One day, you might avoid a missed flight connection because of the weird ability of very small particles to act as though they are in two places at once. This bizarre behavior of the subatomic world is what allows so-called quantum computers to perform some calculations far, far faster than their conventional counterparts. It also could soon be helping smooth some problems in our daily lives. Ordinary computers store information as binary digits, or bits, which can be either zeros or ones. Quantum computers use qubits, or quantum bits, which are much richer objects. Their values can be a complex mixture of zero and one because they rely on this behavior of atoms and smaller particles. Qubits can also coordinate their actions with other qubits instantaneously, no matter how far apart they are—a phenomenon that Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” There are 100,000 ways to assign five planes to 10 gates at an airport. Dial that up to 50 planes and 100 gates, and the number of possibilities balloons to 10 to the hundredth power—far more than the number of atoms in the visible universe. No conceivable conventional computer could keep track of all these possibilities. But a quantum computer potentially could. Collections of qubits act much like waves that contain an enormous amount of data. A quantum computer containing just 350 qubits could theoretically keep track of all the possible solutions to the 50-aircraft-to-100-gate flight-assignment problem. (Today’s machines generally have tens or hundreds of qubits.) #


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