In quantum mechanics, quantum information is physical information that is held in the “state” of a quantum system. The most popular unit of quantum information is the qubit, a two-level quantum system. However, unlike classical digital states (which are discrete), a two-state quantum system can actually be in a superposition of the two states at any given time.
Quantum information differs from classical information in several respects, among which we note the following:
- It cannot be read without the state becoming the measured value,
- An arbitrary state cannot be cloned,
- The state may be in a superposition of basis values.
However, despite this, the maximum amount of information that can be retrieved in a single qubit is equal to one bit. It is in the processing of information (quantum computation) that the differentiation occurs.
The ability to manipulate quantum information enables us to perform tasks that would be unachievable in a classical context, such as unconditionally secure transmission of information. Quantum information processing is the most general field that is concerned with quantum information. There are certain tasks which classical computers cannot perform “efficiently” (that is, in polynomial time) according to any known algorithm. However, a quantum computer can compute the answer to some of these problems in polynomial time; one well-known example of this is Shor’s factoring algorithm. Other algorithms can speed up a task less dramatically—for example, Grover’s search algorithm which gives a quadratic speed-up over the best possible classical algorithm.