Physicists have been taking baby steps toward creating a full-fledged quantum computer faster and more powerful than any computer in existence, by making quantum processors capable of performing individual tasks. Now a group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed the world's first universal programmable quantum computer that can run any program that's possible under the rules of quantum mechanics.
NIST's achievement marks the first time that scientists have created enough inputs and continuous steps to perform programmable processing in a basic quantum computer. The team's computer uses laser pulses to manipulate spinning beryllium ions so that they carry out computer processing, while a separate laser helps interpret the results as calculations.
Early quantum computing theory showed that an infinite number of two-qubit operations exist, and so the NIST team tested just 160 programs 900 times each. The processor worked as intended, but only with a 79 percent accuracy rate -- still below the 99.99 percent rate necessary for a reliable quantum computer.
Researchers hope to boost that accuracy rate by improving their lasers and hardware precision. For now, everyone else need not throw out their supercomputer clusters anytime soon.
[via New Scientist]
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