Scientists have come one step closer to creating multitasking “quantum” computers, much more powerful than even the most modern supercomputers of today.
Quantum computers use the strange properties of subatomic particles.
So-called quantum particles can be in two places at the same time and connect in strange ways, even if they are millions of miles apart.
A team from the University of Sussex has transferred quantum information between computer chips with record speed and accuracy.
Computer scientists have been trying to create an efficient quantum computer for more than 20 years. Companies like Google, IBM, and Microsoft have developed simple machines. But according to Professor Winfried Hensinger, who led the research at the University of Sussex, the new development paves the way for systems that can solve complex real-world problems beyond the capabilities of the best computers available today.
“Now we have quantum computers with very simple microchips,” he said. “What we have achieved here is the ability to realize extremely powerful quantum computers capable of solving some of the most important problems for industry and society.”
Computers now solve problems in a simple linear fashion, one calculation at a time.
In the quantum realm, particles can be in two places at the same time, and researchers want to use this property to develop computers that can perform multiple calculations simultaneously.
Quantum particles can also be millions of miles apart and connect in strange ways, instantly mirroring each other’s actions. Again, this can also be used to design much more powerful computers.
One of the stumbling blocks was the need for fast and reliable transfer of quantum information between chips: information degrades and errors occur.
But Professor Hensinger’s team made a breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Communications, that may have overcome that hurdle.
The team developed a system capable of transmitting information from one chip to another with 99.999993% reliability at record speeds. This, the researchers say, shows that, in principle, chips can be joined together to create a more powerful quantum computer.
Professor Michael Cuthbert, who is director of the newly established National Center for Quantum Computing in Didcot, Oxfordshire and is independent of the Sussex research group, called the development “a really important step forward”. But he said more work is needed to develop practical systems.
“To build the kind of quantum computer you’ll need in the future, you start by connecting chips the size of your fingernail until you end up with something the size of a dinner plate. The Sussex group showed that you can have stability and speed. for that step
“But then you need a mechanism to connect those dinner plates together to scale up a machine potentially as big as a football field to do realistic and useful computations, and the communication technology for that scale is not yet available. “
Postgraduate student Sahra Kulmiya, who carried out the experiment in Sussex, says the team is up for the challenge to take the technology to the next level.
“It’s not just a physics problem anymore,” she said.
“This is an engineering problem, a computer science problem, as well as a mathematical problem.
“It’s really hard to say how close we are to realizing quantum computing, but I’m optimistic about how it can become relevant to our everyday lives.”
One of Britain’s leading engineering firms, Rolls Royce, is also optimistic about this technology. He is working with Sussex researchers to develop machines that could help them develop even better jet engines.
Powerful supercomputers are used to simulate airflow in simulations to test new aircraft engine designs.
According to Professor Lee Lapworth, who leads the development of quantum computing for Rolls-Royce, a quantum computer could track the flow of air with even greater precision, and do it very quickly.
“Quantum computers will be able to perform calculations that we cannot do now, and others that will take many months or years. The potential to perform these calculations in a matter of days will simply transform our design systems and lead to even better engines.”
Potentially, the technology could also be used to create drugs more quickly by accurately modeling their chemical reactions, which is too difficult for today’s supercomputers. They could also create even more accurate systems for forecasting the weather and predicting the effects of climate change.
Professor Hensinger said that he had the idea of developing a quantum computer more than 20 years ago.
“People rolled their eyes and said, ‘It’s impossible.’
“And when people tell me something can’t be done, I just like to try. So I’ve spent the last 20 years breaking down the barriers one by one, and now it’s possible to build a practical quantum computer.”
In turn, an expert in the field of finance Kostyantyn Kryvopust notes the attractiveness of the “quantum breakthrough” for investing.