Quantum Computing Explained Like You Are Fourteen

4 min readDec 6, 2022
IBM Q System One (2019), a commercial quantum computer

In a computer, like the smartphone or laptop you may be using to read this post, information is stored and manipulated using bits. A bit is a unit of information that can represent either a 0 or a 1. These are represented by either the presence of a charge or no charge in a transistor — a semiconductor electronic device. A modern computer, even your smartphone, has billions of such transistors holding and manipulating your data in the form of 0s and 1s.

Transistors can hold charge states to represent data and they can also switch to combine, reverse, or subtract the charge states. Thus resulting in computation. Explained in a rudimentary way, if you had two transistors representing 0 and 1, a third transistor can be used to add, multiply, subtract, or compliment these to create both logic and arithmetic in a traditional computer.

In a Quantum computer, the principles of quantum mechanics are used to perform calculations and process information. This allows quantum computers to perform certain calculations much faster than traditional computers. Because of this, quantum computers have the potential to solve certain problems that are too complex for traditional computers to handle.

Unlike such traditional computers, which use bits that can represent either a 0 or a 1, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can represent a 0, a 1, or both at the same time. This is known as a superposition state.

The use of qubits is what defines a quantum computer. Unlike our computers that use electrical charge (or the lack of) to represent a bit, in the case of a quantum computer, the qubit is typically an electron or a photon, and the states of it are typically defined by the spin of the particle. Because, according to the principles of quantum mechanics, a particle can exist in multiple states simultaneously, it can be in a superposition of states representing 0, 1, and both.

To create a qubit, a quantum computer uses a quantum gate, which is a device that controls the quantum state of the particle. By applying the appropriate sequence of quantum gates, a quantum computer can manipulate the qubits to perform calculations.

One of the key challenges in quantum computing is maintaining the quantum state of the qubits. Because of the delicate nature of quantum states, they are easily disrupted by external influences, such as heat or electromagnetic radiation. As a result, quantum computers must be carefully designed and built to operate in controlled environments, such as specialized laboratories, in order to maintain the integrity of their qubits.

One simple example of how to use qubits for solving a problem is to use them for factoring numbers. Factoring is the process of finding the prime numbers that, when multiplied together, produce a given number. For example, the prime factors of 15 are 3 and 5, because 3 x 5 = 15.

Traditionally, factoring has been a difficult problem for computers to solve, because it involves trying a large number of potential prime numbers until the correct ones are found. However, quantum computers can use qubits to perform the calculations needed for factoring much more quickly than traditional computers.

To use qubits for factoring, a quantum computer would first create a qubit for each potential prime number. The qubits would be initialized in a superposition state, which means they would represent all of the potential prime numbers simultaneously.

Next, the quantum computer would apply a sequence of quantum gates to the qubits in order to perform the calculations needed to determine which qubits represent the prime numbers which can be a factor. Because the qubits are in a superposition state, the calculations can be performed simultaneously on all of the potential prime numbers, which allows the quantum computer to find all the correct prime numbers much more quickly than a traditional computer.

Once the calculations are complete, the quantum computer would measure the state of the qubits in order to determine which ones represent the correct prime numbers. This would give the solution to the factoring problem in a fraction of time that traditional computers would take for large numbers.

Another exciting possibility using quantum computers is transferring large amounts of data almost instantaneously. Because quantum computers can both perform calculations much faster than traditional computers, and also use the principles of quantum teleportation to transfer the state of qubits.

Quantum teleportation is a process that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to transfer the state of a qubit from one location to another, without physically moving the qubit itself. Instead, the state of the qubit is transferred using a combination of classical communication and entanglement, which is a phenomenon that occurs when two or more particles are linked together in a way that allows their states to be correlated.

Once the state of the qubits has been transferred to the new location, the data can be decoded and accessed by a quantum computer at the receiving end. This would allow for the quick and efficient transfer of large amounts of data. However, it should be noted that the use of quantum computers for data transfer is still in the realm of theoretical research.

In conclusion, quantum computers are a type of computing that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to perform calculations and process information. Quantum computers use qubits instead of traditional bits, which allows them to represent multiple states simultaneously and perform certain calculations much faster than traditional computers. This has the potential to make quantum computers useful for a variety of applications, including data transfer and factoring. However, the use of quantum computers is still in the early stages of development, and it is not yet clear when or if they will be practical for real-world applications.