Quantum computing is making its way towards everyday reality, with the power to revolutionize computer technology. Just this week, scientists from around the world have made breakthroughs that bring that reality even closer.
What Is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computers use the laws of quantum physics which govern the behavior of atoms and even smaller particles. Those laws give quantum computers the potential to vastly outpace current binary computing technology. The physics of quantum computing can be very complex. In a very simplified form, it can be compared to being able to read all the books in a library simultaneously, while today’s binary computing technology would have to read each book one at a time.
Current computers use what is called binary technology. Binary computing uses only two variables – basically either one or zero, on or off. Various combinations of one and zero make up the coding that represents all the letters, numbers, and calculations that lie at the heart of binary computing.
The secret to quantum computing’s power lies in the properties of ions, which can exist in different states simultaneously. The “qubits” of quantum computing may be one, zero, or any combination of them all at once. It defies what is commonly accepted as logic; Einstein himself is said to have called quantum entanglement “spooky.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously gave reporters a quick lesson in quantum computing during a media event in April.
Quantum Computers – The Logic Gate
As reported in Science Daily, researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a logic gate that is being called “another important milestone” in the global race to develop quantum computers. The logic gate they have devised comes with unprecedented precision at 99.9 percent.
The logic gate uses a phenomenon called “quantum entanglement” which serves to connect the particles even when they are separated by large distances. The logic gate is a crucial step in the development of a working quantum computer. The 99.9 percent figure means that scientists were able to achieve the state of quantum entanglement 999 times out of 1,000. A level of 99 percent precision is the minimum that would allow for building a working quantum computer, while authors of the study caution that, at 99.9 percent, a quantum computer would be very expensive to build. They anticipate further developments that would bring the level of certainty to 99.99 percent before a full-blown quantum computer would be feasible.
The research was documented in the journal Physics Review Letters by the Oxford University-led Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (NQIT). The NQIT is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The Oxford researchers were using technology developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST in Boulder, Colorado.
— Harvard University (@Harvard) August 6, 2016
A Scalable Quantum Algorithm
On Thursday, scientists from Harvard University and Google announced that they had used quantum computing to simulate chemistry. Their paper was published in the journal Physics Review X and announced in the Harvard Gazette.
Current binary computing technology can be used to model simple molecules for the development of new drugs, for example. However, using current computers means that each possibility would have to be tested individually.
The researchers developed an algorithm that uses quantum computing technology, allowing them to model complex molecules, including all the possible ways their electrons can interact. Their results were scalable, meaning that they can be made more and more complex. The Google engineers involved in the project believe the innovation will lead to the next generation of computer hardware.
— Transhumanism AU (@transhumanismAU) August 5, 2016
The Reprogrammable Quantum Computer
On Wednesday, The Telegraph reported on another quantum computing project at the University of Maryland, where scientists have developed a fully reprogrammable quantum computer from five ions, or atoms which have been electrically charged.
The quantum computer developed at the University of Maryland can solve simple algorithms. While still at a basic and developmental stage, the scientists were still able to outpace traditional computers by performing complex calculations in a single step. It represents a module that can be scaled up and may be programmed and configured in software applications. Their research was published August 3 in the journal Nature.
According to Popular Mechanics, the flexible quantum computer developed at the University of Maryland can be reprogrammed on the fly using lasers. Subjecting the atoms to the right amount of laser light puts them into a state that is called “superposition.” In a state of superposition, the atoms can be doing two opposite things simultaneously. When atoms are in a state of superposition, they can be bound together – that’s the essence of quantum entanglement.
While other groups have also produced small versions of a quantum computer, the University of Maryland team is the first to be reprogrammable.
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