For close to 40 years, quantum computing has been seen as a curious but exciting mix of science fiction and hard computer science somewhere in the distant future.

In the past 10 years, however, large organisations such as Microsoft, Google and IBM have invested more heavily in quantum computing, which uses quantum mechanics rather than binary digital transistors for its calculations. Tools that had previously been theoretical have materialised. Quantum computing is no longer “decades away”.

IBM started giving the public access to a basic quantum computer in the cloud in 2016 and, so far, more than 100,000 people have run more than 6.7m experiments on it. This year, the first quantum computers came into use. These noisy intermediate-scale quantum, or NISQ, computers are not error-corrected and therefore only able to accomplish part of what full quantum computers will be able to do, but people are now able to move beyond theory.