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Traffic in Seattle. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Ford and Microsoft have figured out how to leverage quantum computing — the powerful but not yet commercialized technology — to tackle traffic in Seattle.

Why it matters: By running quantum-inspired algorithms on conventional computer hardware, companies can process more data, giving them a head start on solving complex problems like how to direct thousands of vehicles simultaneously to smooth traffic flow.

  • "We don’t have to wait until quantum computers are deployed at large scale," Ben Porter, director of business development for quantum computing at Microsoft, tells Axios.

The big picture: Imagine a family trying to get ready for work and school with similar departure times, Ken Washington, Ford's chief technology officer, writes in a new blog post.

  • "If an individual day-planning app gave each person the quickest way to get going, there likely would be a bottleneck at the bathroom. Now scale that to a family of thousands…"
  • Just as families stagger bathroom time, traffic routing software could consider all the various route requests from drivers, then optimize route suggestions to minimize the number of cars sharing the road at the same time.

Today's computers can't calculate all the possible route variations fast enough, which is where quantum computing can help, Washington writes.

  • While modern computers translate information into bits — either a 1 or a 0 —
    a quantum computer can translate information into a 1, 0, and somewhere in between, meaning a lot more information can be stored and processed on a single quantum bit.
  • Yes, but: Quantum technology is fickle and still inching from theory to practice.

Microsoft has developed a method to emulate quantum behavior on traditional computers and started working with Ford in 2018 to see how the simulated approach could help tackle real world problems today.

How it works:

  • In one scenario, 5,000 vehicles — each with 10 possible routes — requested directions across Metro Seattle simultaneously.
  • In 20 seconds, balanced routing suggestions were delivered to all 5,000 vehicles.
  • The result: total congestion improved by 73% and average commuting time dropped 8% when compared to routing each car individually, in a vacuum.

What to watch: The companies will continue to try to refine their simulated approach with the goal of using quantum computing to solve intractable problems like optimizing manufacturing processes or improving batteries for electric vehicles.

Go deeper: A surprising quantum frontrunner

Go deeper

Journalism enters dangerous new era

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Capitol attack on Jan. 6 resulted in at least nine physical assaults against journalists and at least five arrests, per the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker's top editor.

Why it matters: President Trump's harsh rhetoric towards the press has empowered leaders abroad and locally in the U.S. to continue to attack press that they don't like.

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Joe Biden's inauguration and the days right after will bring a rat-tat-tat burst of climate policy moves, but keep this in mind amid the splashy pledges: pushing through most of his agenda will be a long, uncertain slog.

Why it matters: Biden's climate plan is far more expansive than anything contemplated under President Obama. But for all the immediate pledges, it will take years to see how far Biden gets.

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President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.