As modern computers continue to reach the limits of their processing power, quantum computing is starting to offer hope for solving more specialized problems that require immensely robust computing.

Quantum computers were once thought an impossible technology because they harness the intricate power of quantum mechanics and are housed in highly unconventional environments. But these machines now have the potential to address problems ranging from finding drugs that can target specific cancers to valuing portfolio risk, says Vern Brownell, founder and CEO of D-Wave Systems, the Canadian company that in 2010 introduced the world’s first commercially available quantum computer.

In this interview with McKinsey’s Michael Chui, Brownell discusses what quantum computing is, how it works, and where it’s headed in the next five years.

Click the ‘Read More’ button below for an edited transcript of their conversation.