The competition in quantum computing is heating up: Baidu is the latest tech giant to join Google, IBM and others to create computers that promise to be much faster and more powerful that what we use today.

Here’s what makes quantum computers different. While traditional computers store data in bits with a value of either 0 or 1, quantum computers use what’s called qubits. Like Schrödinger's cat, a qubit can exist in two states at once. In other words, a qubit can can be 0, 1 or both!

Right now, quantum computing is still in the experimental stage. The holy grail is to achieve what’s known as “quantum supremacy”: A quantum computer that can outperform a conventional computer in a specific task.

Google seems to be ahead of everyone else. This week, it announced a 72-qubit quantum computer called Bristlecone, just four months after IBM introduced a 50-qubit one that it showed off at CES this year. Google believes its version can ultimately reach quantum supremacy.

Bristlecone, Google’s newest quantum processor (Source: Google)

Before you get your hopes up, most of us won’t be using a personal quantum computer any time soon. But that doesn’t mean the next generation of computing won’t affect our lives. One thing researchers are worried about? Quantum hacking.

Today’s cryptography makes use of number combinations that are so long, it’ll take hundreds of classical computers months or even years just to crack one code. But quantum computers can break these codes quite easily. That means technology that seems highly secure now -- like blockchain -- could one day become vulnerable.

Baidu hasn’t said exactly what it wants to use quantum computing for, just that it wants to apply it to its business.