Quantum Computing Around The Corner?
"A little company by the name of D-Wave is about to set the industry on its ear next week with the debut of their 16-qubit processor."
Published: 12th February 2007 | Source: Guardian Unlimited |12/02/07
Source: Guardian Unlimited
A Canadian company with substantial venture capital backing claims to have built a "quantum computer" that will ultimately solve problems beyond the power of conventional systems - and will demonstrate it over a live link this week. While most scientists believe a useful system is at least 20 years away, D-Wave , based in Burnaby, British Columbia, says it has a breakthrough in a field that already promises revolution. The company says it expects to sell quantum computers next year that can solve knotty problems from protein structure to financial optimisation.
|In a quantum computer, every quantum bit (or "qubit") is simultaneously both 0 and 1. Put two qubits together, and you have a system whose values are simultaneously every value from 0 to 3. A system with only 300 qubits is in 1090 (one followed by 90 zeros) states simultaneously - more than the number of atoms in the known universe. If (and it's a big "if") you can frame your calculation in the correct way then rather than grinding through each individual step of the calculation (what is 2+2? Add 2 to 0, add 2 to 2, read the result) the quantum computer will move directly to the correct answer. What is 2+2? The quantum state: 4.|
For the mathematically elite amongst us, you can view the details on quantum computing and Bits vs qubits at Wikipedia
The problem exists for developers that quantum computers literally stop working if you look at them. If any interference, even thermal noise, gets in from the outside world, quantum states "collapse". The cat is alive or dead, the bits are 0 or 1, not both, and the computer loses its magical multiplicity. So far, quantum computers have only been isolated long enough for a few thousand operations - too short to do anything really useful.
But D-Wave's "Orion" is designed to collapse: it uses a so-called "adiabatic" process, in which the quantum states evolve towards the answer. Noise actually helps this, according to D-Wave's founder, the scientist Geordie Rose. His Orion system is a 16-qubit chip, built with the metal niobium using conventional lithography, and cooled to just above absolute zero.
Is this a major advancement in computing as we know it, or purely the realm of the trekkie fans? Either way, D-Wave are going for a very public demonstration come the 15th of February.
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