Writing a quantum algorithm? Avoid using a quantum computer

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A Zapata researcher works on one of the company’s quantum computing algorithms.

Startups are helping companies write software for quantum computers. It isn’t easy.

Zapata Computing, a 30-person startup in Boston, creates software for quantum computers. But when a customer has a problem it would like to solve, one of Zapata’s first steps is to figure out how much it can avoid using a quantum machine.

That’s because quantum computing is, like the tiny particles that underlie the technology, in a paradoxical state: It has arrived, but it isn’t quite here. Quantum algorithms theoretically will be used for such transformative purposes as cracking encryption, simulating chemical reactions, and optimizing financial transactions. But the quantum machines that Google, IBM and other companies have so far put online for people to use aren’t up to the task. Their limited number of quantum bits, or qubits, are unstable: They can’t encode a lot of data yet.

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