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June 30th, 2008
It might be the science of the very small, but quantum computing is on the verge of solving some giant problems. For more than 30 years, physicists have dreamed of harnessing the power of atoms to produce computers that would far outstrip the capabilities of the silicon microchips used in today's PCs.
These machines would have the ability to perform calculations that would take normal computers millions of years, while carrying out a vast number of tasks simultaneously. They promise to make as big an impact on information technology as the transistor.
Despite the dazzling potential of such technology, quantum computers have remained little more than a possibility on paper. Building a quantum computer has proven far more challenging than the theory, leading scientists to doubt whether they would ever find a practical purpose.
But the world's foremost experts in the field are now revising their predictions and believe that we could see quantum computers within years.
Their excitement has been fed by experiments that demonstrated some of the practical uses of quantum computers, showing that it will at last be possible to turn the theory into reality.
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