Scott Aaronson provocatively lays out the importance of quantum computing research without resorting to hyperbole and fluff. Often, when quantum computing is explained to the public, the focus is on the razzle-dazzle promise of future computing power. What are left out are the advances in our understanding of nature that have happened as a result of physics using techniques from computer science.
Quantum computing really is one of the most exciting things happening in science right now. Just not for the reasons you usually hear. [...]
And yet, even though useful quantum computers might still be decades away, many of their payoffs are already arriving. For example, the mere possibility of quantum computers has all but overthrown a conception of the universe that scientists like Stephen Wolfram have championed. That conception holds that, as in the “Matrix” movies, the universe itself is basically a giant computer, twiddling an array of 1’s and 0’s in essentially the same way any desktop PC does.[...]
But the biggest payoff so far may have been an improvement in the way quantum mechanics itself is taught and understood. Since its beginnings in the 1920s, quantum mechanics has been considered the prototype of an abstruse, complicated theory: something beyond the grasp of all but a few physicists. Today, though, I and others regularly explain its underlying logic to students by focusing on the simplest imaginable system to which that logic applies: the qubits that make up a quantum computer.