Quantum Computing: A Primer

Frank Chen
Jun 27, 2016 · 1 min read

When things get small — like atoms and electrons small — physics gets weird. Schrödinger’s Cat weird. Quantum superposition weird. Quantum entanglement weird. Atoms, electrons and photos obey quantum mechanical laws so spooky (Einstein’s word for it) and complex, we can’t even simulate them with our most advanced supercomputers.

Because we can’t simulate quantum behavior, legendary and Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman proposed building a new class of computers called quantum computers which “hitch a ride” on quantum mechanical properties to try and model this behavior.

So what is a quantum computer? How is it different from a traditional transistor-and-Boolean algebra computer like the one you are reading this on? What can a quantum computer do that a traditional computer can’t do? What practical applications are there? Will quantum computers mean the end of crypto as we know it? And how accurate was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on that day he won the Internet with his explanation of quantum computing?

In this primer, I unpack the basics and describe why many of the biggest companies, research universities, and nation states are investing heavily in the development of quantum computers. And how perhaps now is the right time for startups to join the quest.

Some recommended further reading:

Quantum Computing 101 — University of Waterloo Institute for Quantum Computing

Quantum Computing Since Democritus — Scott Aronson

Quantum category — Scott Aronson’s blog

Quantum Computing entry — Wikipedia

Grover’s Quantum Search Algorithm — Craig Gidney, Twisted Oak Studios

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Frank Chen

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Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Writes about tech, startups, venture investing, science, the future. Likes explaining things. Opinions my own.

Software Is Eating the World

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