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As I understand it, the field of quantum mechanics was started in the early 20th century when Max Planck solved the black-body radiation problem. But I don't know when the idea of computers using quantum effects spread out.

What is the earliest source that proposes the idea of quantum computers using qubits?

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According to Wikipedia of Timeline of quantum computing, here are the main events:

  • 1960

    Stephen Wiesner invents conjugate coding.

  • 1968

    A quantum computer with spins as quantum bits was also formulated for use as a quantum spacetime in 1968.

    Finkelstein, David (1968). "Space-Time Structure in High Energy Interactions". In Gudehus, T.; Kaiser, G. Fundamental Interactions at High Energy. New York: Gordon & Breach.

  • 1973

    Alexander Holevo publishes a paper showing that n qubits cannot carry more than n classical bits of information (see: "Holevo's theorem"/"Holevo's bound").

    Charles H. Bennett shows that computation can be done reversibly.

  • 1976

    Polish mathematical physicist Roman Stanisław Ingarden publishes a seminal paper entitled "Quantum Information Theory" in Reports on Mathematical Physics, vol. 10, 43–72, 1976.

  • 1980

    Paul Benioff described quantum mechanical Hamiltonian models of computers

    Yuri Manin proposed an idea of quantum computing

  • 1981

    Richard Feynman in his talk [...], observed that it appeared to be impossible in general to simulate an evolution of a quantum system on a classical computer in an efficient way. He proposed a basic model for a quantum computer that would be capable of such simulations

  • 1982

    Paul Benioff proposes the first recognisable theoretical framework for a quantum computer.

So in general, the field of quantum computing was initiated by the work of Paul Benioff study and Yuri Manin in 1980, Richard Feynman in 1982 study, and David Deutsch in 1985. Source: Quantum computing at Wikipedia.

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Around 1960-1973 the idea was beginning to form, but the field really started spreading in the 1980s.

One of the biggest pioneers was Richard P. Feynman. He proposed a model of a quantum computer in his talk. From that talk, many other scientists pushed the field further (Toffoli created one of the first quantum gates; Shor, at Bell Labs, created one of the first quantum algorithms etc.)

The field has been changing and evolving rapidly throughout 1980-2000, and keeps evolving. But the initial "spark" was made by Richard Feynman. I don't know if he thought of qubits, but his main interest in quantum computing was for simulating quantum physics and systems.

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