Prof Woodward is in the minority in thinking that the consumer market will benefit widely from quantum computers
What is a quantum computer and when can I have one? It makes use of all that “spooky” quantum stuff and vastly increases computing power, right? And they’ll be under every desk when scientists finally tame the spooky stuff, right? And computing will undergo a revolution no less profound than the one that brought us the microchip, right?
Well, sort of.
That is broadly what has been said about quantum computers up to now, but it’s probably best to pause here and be clear about what is, at this stage, most likely to come.
First things first, though: just what do they do? Many media outlets have dived into the academic literature sporadically to shed some light on the effort.
BBC News has reported that quantum computers “exploit the counterintuitive fact that photons or trapped atoms can exist in multiple states or ‘superpositions’ at the same time“, and “quantum computing’s one trick is to perform calculations on all superposition states at once” – plus, other quantum weirdness means the whole business “can then be done ‘in the cloud’ completely securely“.
This week has seen two more advances in the field. In one, a team reporting in Nature describes the first fully quantum network, in which “qubits” – quantum bits, the information currency of quantum computers – were faithfully shuttled between two laboratories.
In another, a team writing in Science says they have “entangled” two qubits – representing the simplest core of a quantum computer – within a semiconductor, materials that standard computer makers are already familiar with manufacturing.
(It has been truly busy recently; the largest ensemble of working qubits was reported on Arxiv in January, and the biggest quantum computer number-crunching feat was published in Physical Review Letters in late March.)
Bet it works
It is all a bit bewildering, so to sum up the state of the field: very small-scale, laboratory-bound quantum computers that can solve simple problems exist; most researchers say the idea of massively scaled-up versions looks perfectly plausible on paper; but making them is an engineering challenge that practically defies quantifying.
Scott Aaronson, an expert in the theory of computation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one believer in the scaled-up quantum computer. He recently offered a $100,000 prize for a convincing proof that such a device could not be made.
via BBC – Jason Palmer ᔥ
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