As much as we love our silicon semiconductors, quantum computers are very much a technology of the future. Instead of the usual string of 1s and 0s, they'll be able to send both types of information at the same time, dwarfing their traditional counterparts. But one major problem is that they can only move through one optical fibre. To push more information through, they need a router, and Chinese physicists have unveiled the first one.
To build a quantum computer, scientists first have to build a working qubit, or quantum bit, that is both controllable and measurable (something that, for few very quantum reasons, is fairly challenging). But a group of Harvard physicists have overcome some key obstacles to turn the impurities in lab-grown diamonds into quantum bits capable of holding information at room temperature for nearly two seconds--an eternity in quantum coherence times.
In a case that's somewhat chicken-and-egg, one of the many reasons computer scientists and physicists are pursuing a working quantum computer is to model quantum systems themselves. Modeling some quantum properties for systems even with a just a few dozen particles is impossible on even the biggest conventional supercomputers, and the pursuit of new materials and next-level science requires that we find a way to do so.
Silicon semiconductors have taken us a dazzling distance along the computing road. But even if they continue unabated to get faster and more powerful (and it's growing more difficult to make that happen) there's a limit to what classical computing can do.
The next real game-change in computing is quantum--tapping the quantum mechanical properties of materials to process information in ways that will make today's biggest and baddest super computers look like pocket calculators. And for the first time scientists, at places like IBM, are moving beyond just theorizing about them to actually envisioning how a finished quantum computer would work. In labs across the globe, the first building blocks of the first quantum computers are slowly becoming real.
That's huge considering a working quantum computer would be the kind of thing that truly moves the ground beneath our feet. With a relatively modest quantum computer, scientists could slice through sophisticated encryption schemes, model quantum systems with unprecedented accuracy, and filter through complex, unstructured databases with unparalleled efficiency.
But first they have to build one.
Scott Aaronson, a scientist at MIT who works mostly with theoretical quantum computers, issued a challenge to all of those deniers out there: prove that "scalable quantum computing is impossible in the physical world," and Aaronson will personally pony up $100,000 to the winner.
When quantum computers eventually reach larger scales, they'll probably remain pretty precious resources, locked away in research institutions just like our classical supercomputers. So anyone who wants to perform quantum calculations will likely have to do it in the cloud, remotely accessing a quantum server somewhere else.
Vancouver-based quantum computer maker D-Wave Systems is the kind of company that often gets mixed reviews--either kudos for working on the very edge of a new and potentially groundbreaking technology, or dismissal for not exactly delivering the kind of Earth-shattering technology that people were perhaps expecting. Regardless, today D-Wave is marking one in the win column after announcing that it has achieved the world’s largest quantum computation using 84 qubits.
In a paper far too daunting for a Monday, researchers at the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) have described a novel way to build a simple quantum computer. The idea: rather than using a bunch of finicky interferometers in series to measure the inputs and outputs of data encoded in photons, they want to freeze their interferometers in glass using holograms, making their properties more stable.