Home → Magazine Archive → August 2015 (Vol. 58, No. 8) → Programming the Quantum Future → Abstract

Programming the Quantum Future

By BenoƮt Valiron, Neil J. Ross, Peter Selinger, D. Scott Alexander, Jonathan M. Smith

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 58 No. 8, Pages 52-61

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The earliest computers, like the ENIAC, were rare and heroically difficult to program. That difficulty stemmed from the requirement that algorithms be expressed in a "vocabulary" suited to the particular hardware available, ranging from function tables for the ENIAC to more conventional arithmetic and movement operations on later machines. Introduction of symbolic programming languages, exemplified by FORTRAN, solved a major difficulty for the next generation of computing devices by enabling specification of an algorithm in a form more suitable for human understanding, then translating this specification to a form executable by the machine. The "programming language" used for such specification bridged a semantic gap between the human and the computing device. It provided two important features: high-level abstractions, taking care of automated bookkeeping, and modularity, making it easier to reason about sub-parts of programs.

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Key Insights


Quantum computation is a computing paradigm where data is encoded in the state of objects governed by the laws of quantum physics. Using quantum techniques, it is possible to design algorithms that outperform their best-known conventional, or classical, counterparts.


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