Quantum computers are discussed in the general framework of computation, the laws of physics and the foundations of quantum mechanics1.
- In order to evaluate the future impact of quantum computation, the main question under discussion is: is it possible to build a useful quantum computer that could outperform existing classical computers in important computational tasks? And, if so, when? The difficulties are huge. Besides the problem of decoherence, we should also remark on the difficulty of finding new and efficient quantum algorithms. We know that problems such as molecular structure determination can be solved efficiently on a quantum computer, but we do not know the answer to the following fundamental question: What class of problems could be simulated efficiently on a quantum computer? Quantum computers open up fascinating prospects, but it does not seem likely that they will become a reality with practical applications in a few years. How long might it take to develop the required technology? Even though unexpected technological breakthroughs are, in principle, always possible, one should remember the enormous effort that was necessary in order to develop the technology of classical computers.
- We can certainly say that the computational power at our disposal increased enormously over the years and the computer hardware changed from pebbles to mechanical and electromechanical computers, vacuum tubes, up to transistors and integrated circuits. The more optimistic predictions always underestimated the development of computers and we might hope the same will happen for quantum computers. Of course, the time when a quantum computer will be on the desk in our office is uncertain. In any event, what is certain is that we are witnessing the emergence of a very promising field of investigation in physics, mathematics and computer science.
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