This quantum computer blueprint could change life as we know it
Dubbed “the holy grail of science”, quantum computing has long featured on the scientific community’s agenda. Now, in a revolutionary breakthrough, scientists are claiming to have formulated a blueprint for the world’s first large-scale quantum computer. The advance would allow us to process data on an inconceivably large scale, heralding a technological revolution.
For scale, Google’s D-Wave 2X “quantum computer” operates at a speed purportedly 100 million times faster than your personal computer. Even so, scientists are dubious of its status as a proper quantum computer, arguing that a genuine quantum computer would have a far, far greater capacity. In fact, Winfried Hensinger from the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex in the UK prophesied of quantum technology: “Life will change completely. We will be able to do certain things we could never even dream of before.”
Quantum computing is not a fledgeling phenomenon: first proffered as a theory by eminent physicist Richard Feynman in 1982, it doesn’t serve any practical role thus far, but thanks to this recent unearthing, a tangible quantum computer could be created in a matter of years. Excitingly, the blueprint promises to solve hitherto insurmountable problems with existing technology, making the finish line (if such a thing exists in science) all the more attainable.
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The big qualm of quantum computing is that lab machines suffer from a fallout effect called decoherence, which sullies the material ambiguity that gives quantum computers their power. To unpack this a little further, unlike computers as you and I know them, which are confined to the 1s and 0s of binary code bits, quantum computers are based on qubits. Here comes a more ethereal side to science – these qubits are susceptible to a phenomenon called “entanglement” that lords over the tiniest matter in the universe, meaning that each qubit can take on the state of a 0 bit, 1 bit, or a “superposition” of the two. They’re anything and everything. It is this ambiguity gives qubits their magical, not to mention immense, transformative power.
Losing this ambiguity is a major setback in the development of practical quantum computers. While scientists can muster devices comprising ten or 15 qubits, the reality is that they’d need much more for a truly purposeful computer. Hensinger predicts that, eventually, this number could reach up to ten billion.
Which, of course, is where the almighty blueprint comes in. The prospective approach uses handily pre-existing technology – ions are trapped in magnetic fields to be used as qubits, which in turn would operate in hand-sized square modules. These would function as part of an interchangeable system – modules could be added or taken away as required, so in theory you could build a quantum computer to whatever size suited you. The magnetic fields of the ion qubits would protect them from decoherence, meaning that their quantum states would remain intact.
The marvels of the blueprint don’t end there, either; the approach reportedly allows for connection speeds that are 100,000 times faster between the individual modules. Meanwhile, the computer could in theory operate at room temperature, so wouldn’t require constant heat moderation. That’s just as well. When your computer is big enough to fit two penalty boxes and a centre circle inside, your common or garden Cooler Master fan isn’t going to cut it.
Images: Dano and IBM Research used under Creative Commons
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