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Science and Technology
Computer Science - computing processors, nanotechnology, quantum mechanics, quantum computers, data encryption
Working prototypes of quantum computers may be demonstrated by 2040, making a whole new range of computationally intensive tasks possible.
Summary Analysis:
Simon Bone and Matias Castro of Imperial College, London offer this concise explanation of quantum computing in their work A Brief History of Quantum Computing:

'In the classical model of a computer, the most fundamental building block, the bit, can only exist in one of two distinct states, a 0 or a 1. In a quantum computer the rules are changed. Not only can a "quantum bit," usually referred to as a "qubit," exist in the classical 0 and 1 states, it can also be in a coherent superposition of both. When a qubit is in this state it can be thought of as existing in two universes, as a 0 in one universe and as a 1 in the other. An operation on such a qubit effectively acts on both values at the same time.'

Nobel physicist Richard Feynman and Charles Benett of IBM, among others, made significant early contributions to understanding the computational use of a quantum bit (qubit) from the physical properties of matter. Great progress is continuing worldwide at laboratories such as the Centre for Quantum Computation – a collaboration between Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Implementation of quantum computing would make certain types of computation extremely fast -- potentially trillions of times faster than today -- and secure, using encryption techniques that are unbreakable because of the almost unimaginable number of instructions that can potentially be executed simultaneously. In quantum computing, a whole range of computationally intensive tasks that were previously impossible -- including image understanding, real-time speech recognition, generation of unbreakable codes, and extreme compression of data and media -- will become common.


  • Enhanced data security
  • Decreased size of data storage devices
  • New ability to perform extremely complex tasks with speed and accuracy

Early Indicators:

  • Forecast by researchers at UC Berkeley that revenue-producing products will likely be available using carbon nanotubes in 2020 for quantum computation in 2040–2060
  • Recent major progress in developing quantum computing hardware by researchers from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), along with colleagues from New Zealand and Germany

What to Watch:

  • One bit of information is encoded into a single atom (expected by 2017 if Moore's law continues to hold).
  • Enormously difficult theoretical breakthroughs are made.


  • Advent of the computer based on a binary floating-point number and switching system (Konrad Zuse, 1938)


  • Growing demand for data and media encryption because of mushrooming worldwide need for data privacy and protection of intellectual property
  • Growing research investment in nanotechnologies for many applications
  • Continued funding of research leading toward quantum computing devices by governments and universities in the UK, North America, Europe, Israel, and Asia, as well as commercial enterprises worldwide
  • Continuing research progress in mathematics, physics, nanoscale materials sciences, and computer software programming


  • US, UK, Europe, Israel, Asia


  • Centres for Quantum Computation, Oxford [link] and Cambridge [link] Universities (led by David Deutsch of Oxford University, who in 1985 described how the quantum Turing machine might be built, in principle, and how the 'superposition' of 0s and 1s simultaneously led to quantum parallelism)
  • Cambridge/MIT Quantum collaboration [link]
  • US National Institute for Standards and Technology (development of quantum computing hardware)
  • IBM Research, Yorktown US [link]
  • Riken, Japan [link]
  • Hewlett-Packard, Bristol UK [link]
  • University of Bristol [link]
  • University of Southampton [link]
  • Imperial College, London [link]
  • UK Quantum Circuits Network [link]


  • Bone, Simon and Matias Castro. "A Brief History of Quantum Computing." Imperial College in London, 1997 [link]
  • Alex Chediak, Karen Scott, Peng Zhang. 1982. "Simulating Physics with Computers." International Journal of Theoretical Physics. [link]
  • Hey, Tony and Douglas Ross. 2001. "Feynman, Einstein and Quantum Computing." Powerpoint presentation. University of Southampton. [link]
  • Chediak, Alex, Karen Scott, Peng Zhang. 2002. "The Future of Computing." University of California, Berkeley. [link]
  • Chiaverini, J., J. Britton, D. Leibfried, E. Knill, M. D. Barrett,, R. B. Blakestad, W. M. Itano, J. D. Jost, C. Langer, R. Ozeri, T. Schaetz, D. J. Wineland. 2005 "Implementation of the Semiclassical Quantum Fourier Transform in a Scalable System." Science, Vol 308, Issue 5724, 997-1000, 13 May. [link]
  • Smolin, Lee. 2002. "The Future of the Nature of the Universe" in The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century. John Brockman, ed. (Random House: New York).
  • Twist, Jo. "The super-fast future of computing." BBC News Online. 14 June 2004. [link]
  • Samuel L Braunstein, Quantum Computation: A Tutorial [link]
  • The Quantum Pontiff blog [link]
  • Martyn Williams, Japan team reports quantum computing breakthrough, InfoWorld 2003 [link]
  • Hitachi and Cambridge announce quantum computing breakthrough, 2005 [link]


At A Glance:
21-50 years +
How Fast:

Related Outlooks:

About this outlook: An outlook is an internally consistent, plausible view of the future based on the best expertise available. It is not a prediction of the future. The AT-A-GLANCE ratings suggest the scope, scale, and uncertainty associated with this outlook. Each outlook is also a working document, with contributors adding comments and edits to improve the forecast over time. Please see the revision history for earlier versions.

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