Hardware

Quantum computing: What is it and has it arrived?

Most physicists and computer manufacturers think quantum computers will replace the silicon chips currently in use.

Dr. Michiu Kaku, renowned theoretical physicist, author, and television personality, when referring to the potential of atomic scale computing writes, "The most ambitious proposal is to use quantum computers, which actually compute on individual atoms themselves. Some claim that quantum computers are the ultimate computer, since the atom is the smallest unit that one can calculate on. (Michiu Kaku, "Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100.")

Wikipedia defines a Quantum Computer as, "a device for computation that makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from traditional computers based on transistors. The basic principle behind quantum computation is that quantum properties can be used to represent data and perform operations on these data."

In simpler language, quantum computing makes use of Atomic Scale Integration, or, making computations on atoms themselves. And, rather than referring to bits of information - the smallest discrete piece of manipulatable data - quantum information is measured in qubits.

Quantum computing - early to present

Most physicists and computer manufacturers think quantum computers will replace the silicon chips currently in use. A similar evolution in processing technology occurred in the mid to late 1950's when transistors replaced the technology used at the time, the vacuum tube.

Although evolutionary technology is needed to fully utilize the computing power of quantum mechanics, the development of this technology is already hotly contested.

The race began in 1998 when Los Alamos and MIT research partners were able to spread a discrete unit of information across many different nuclear oscillations, in a solution of acid molecules. The suspension allowed different states to be analyzed as quantum information. The race was on: to build a smaller and more functional quantum based platform to measure additional qubits.

It took a couple of years before the next step. This was accomplished by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory when they developed a quantum computer inside a drop of liquid! The manipulation of particles in the water molecule was quite interesting and produced a 7 qubit quantum phase, blowing away all previous quantum data manipulation achievements.

Fast forward six years, and Canadian company D-Wave was able to produce a 16 qubit quantum computer able to compute several complex patterns and identify matching systems. This work ushered in the present phase of technological advancements in the world of quantum computing and is often cited as the standard for future investigations.

On the heels of this accomplishment, Graphene was discovered in 2004. This substance has been hailed as a new kind of wonder substance - though it's essentially a form of carbon, similar to pencil lead. Graphene is the king of small - it's just one atom thick - and it's highly conductive. Earlier in 2011 IBM built the first graphene circuit and now it says it can build graphene chips using production lines usually used for silicon, which bodes well for mass production.

Quantum computing - The promise

Technology changes and moves faster than most of us realize. The processing power that many companies have harnessed is faster than most ever thought possible, but as fast as our current computer technology is, it remains quite slow. The world's fastest super computer, Japan's K computer has approximately the processing power of one human brain. There are some things the K computer can do as fast as an average human, some things such as pattern recognition, more slowly. By comparison, and although we are still very far from mastering this application of quantum mechanics; researchers have estimated that a quantum computer no bigger than a laptop has the potential to perform the equivalent of all human thought since the dawn of our species in a tiny fraction of a second!

As you can see, once quantum computing technology is mastered, the amount of calculations possible will be larger than life.

Elementary quantum computers are in use in laboratories worldwide today. Although a practical workplace option is still somewhat off in the future, today's basic machines require only sounder fundamental system architectural design to emerge as commonplace future computing technology.

The future

Despite the discoveries that have been made in the manipulation of atomic particles with micro sized computing systems, the reality of quantum computing is still quite limited. There are still huge challenges to overcome. As Dr. Kaku relates, "When atoms are coherent and vibrating in phase with one another, the tiniest disturbances from the outside world can ruin this delicate balance and make the atoms decohere, so they no longer vibrate in unison. Even the passing of a cosmic ray or the rumble of a truck outside the lab can destroy this balance". Unfortunately, when atoms decohere it is impossible to make any calculations. Additionally, the very nature of uncertainty on the quantum level gives rise to computational challenges. It turns out that all calculations done on a quantum computer are uncertain, so you have to repeat the experiment many times. So 2 + 2 = 4, but only sometimes. If you repeat the calculation of 2 + 2 a number of times, the final answer averages out to 4. So even arithmetic becomes fuzzy on a quantum computer.

Dr. Kaku concludes with, "The decoherence problem and uncertainty issues are the most difficult barriers to creating quantum computers. Anyone who can solve these challenges will not only win a Nobel Prize but also become the richest person on earth."

The future awaits!

About

Robert Eugene Miller is an information technology consultant and President of Horizon Technologys (www.HorizonTks.com). Horizon provides Business Intelligence Deployment, Systems Security Assessments, and Website Development consulting services to a ...

13 comments
JE55E
JE55E

"This substance has been hailed as a new kind of wonder substance - though it???s essentially a form of carbon, similar to pencil lead" Don't forget that carbon has several allotropes in addition to the soft graphite in pencil lead, carbon also takes a significantly harder form: diamonds. Every element has multiple properties, it's just a matter of finding the correct application for the moment.

Robert Eugene Miller
Robert Eugene Miller

A multi-purpose optical chip which generates, manipulates and measures entanglement and mixture -- two quantum phenomena which are essential driving forces for tomorrow's quantum computers -- has now been developed. This work represents an important step forward in the race to develop a quantum computer. Go here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111211134004.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fcomputers_math+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Computers+%26+Math+News%29

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Brings back memories of Heinlein's "I tell you three times" because they didn't always get the same result. Or maybe the Intel Pentium floating-point co-processor of 1994... ;-)

seanferd
seanferd

[quote]Most physicists and computer manufacturers think quantum computers will replace the silicon chips currently in use. [/quote] Quantum computing is useful for some things. Not so much in terms of what most everyone uses computers for.

dogknees
dogknees

We seem to all fall into the same trap. The idea that there has to be one technology that does everything. People look for "the" solution to climate change, "the" best operating system, "the" mobile OS,.... How about realising that the ideal is usually a combination of many technologies and ways of using them. Why wouldn't the future of computing encompass ALL the technologies being developed? It seems obvious that you would have what are traditionally called co-processors that are used for processing certain sorts of work. Just as we have graphics and physics processors now. Quantum processor, biological processor, massively parallel processor (billions of cores..), photonic processor and signalling,..... All in one box on my desk or in my hand.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

The smallest unit for computation? Photonic gates using interference have been around at least 20 years as a research topic. Molecular computing using DNA is interesting but the problem is that while the calculation part is quick, sifting thru various permutations of answers is a pain.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I see that the entire computer is in a VBox!I'm not kidding we never see the correct BIOS or install.I have determined that all computer virus attack whatever you're doing.If your web surfing or making BIOS adjustments the virus are there.This VBox would be considered to be a virus.I run Safety Center all day in all of my computers.You'll rarely come to a correct conclusion with the virus attack.Virus are even between the drive plates!I use ABD random erase a lot.Striped drives is the best for increasing computer speed.The run speed of the computer is how fast the computer reads and writes to the drives.There is also some kind of a buffer in the adapter card or the drives themselves.If I copy a one gig file from the C: drive to the D: drive the drive record head doesn't bop around.It copies real smooth.See you on the portage man.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

The computer is already broken.Making BIOS adjustments won't hurt anything.The BIOS now is a few patronizing settings.Let me try the FSB multiplier at times ten instead of times two.Some can get into their BIOS somehow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X87O70OChDg

bboyd
bboyd

Quantum communication and its potential for wireless speed of light communication through entangle particles might be usable in my life time. I think I'd bet far less on Q. Computing replacing a rapidly advancing binary computing world. I think we will see Tri and Multi state device methodology advance to usefulness before QC. Advanced manufacturing with materials science advances like quantum wells and the a fore mentioned graphene along with a host of other advances make 3D circuitry possible and practical in the near future. The silicon chip advanced from tube by orders of magnitute in power, price, density, reliability and life. QC goes the other direction.

dogknees
dogknees

Note that the quote doesn't specify a timeframe. People should remember many scientists take a long view of things. Many are used to working on a project that was started by those who are now passed and will be completed by those yet to come. So, yes they probably will replace what we currently use, but it may be several decade before we see it outside the lab and specialised usage. This is why I get frustrated by articles that say some technology has been a failure because it doesn't have market penetration within 12 months. Some things take many years to get to a "critical mass". Mobile/Cellphones are a classic case. Despite the hype, the early adoption, think late 80's was pretty slow. It took a long time before they made a significant dent at the consumer level.

dogknees
dogknees

For the right task, the power is vastly greater. Once programmers start thinking in terms of what quantum systems do instead of procedural or functional or declarative ways, we'll learn to use the power in other ways. Think of the current focus on parallel computing and extend the idea to effectively an infinite number of cores/threads.

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