When you go to a press talk at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, you expect there to be some smart remarks about what people may or may not know. Be warned, if you try to do this to Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau he will show you just how much he knows.
The clip starts with the reporter asking that he “was going to ask you [Trudeo] to explain quantum computing” before going to ask a question regarding Canadas ISIL mission. Trudeau wasn’t going to let this slide though and began by fully explaining how quantum computing works. He explains everything from how regular computers currently work and how quantum computing could allow us to “encode more information into a much smaller computer”.
Throughout the entire response, Trudeau is backed by cheers and laughter from the crowd, with many probably as surprised as the reporter that asked the question in the first place that he was able to accurately responds with a range of details regarding not only quantum theory but also how it would help computers.
The stumbling block when it comes to quantum computing – which aims to use the quantum-mechanical phenomena of entanglement and superposition in order to perform superfast computational operations without electronic transistors – is maintaining superposition (i.e. more than one physical state, simultaneously; think Schrödinger’s cat), but a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) thinks the secret behind sustaining that state can be found in diamonds.
The MIT researchers have developed a feedback-control system, utilising synthetic diamonds, which can successfully maintain a quantum superposition, the process of which is detailed in a paper entitled “Coherent feedback control of a single qubit in diamond,” published in Nature.
“Instead of having a classical controller to implement the feedback, we now use a quantum controller,” Paola Cappellaro, Esther and Harold Edgerton Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT (pictured above), told ComputerWorld. “Because the controller is quantum, I don’t need to do a measurement to know what’s going on.”
The artificial diamonds used featured a “vacancy” – essentially, a missing carbon nucleus within the structural lattice of the jewel – which was exploited by swapping an adjacent carbon atom for a nitrogen atom, resulting in a nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre. If the NV is exposed to a strong magnetic field – the MIT team fixed a magnet to the diamond – the centre’s electronic spin can then maintain a superposition of up and down at the same time. In this case, the NV centre was able to maintain its superposition for 1,000 times as long as previous experiments.
The main difference between quantum computers and those we use currently is the quantum computers’ use of qubits rather than the typical bit. These qubits are both 0 and 1 simultaneously and if successfully harnessed are expected to offer enormous jumps in processing power by comparison. The hard part is being able to make use of these qubits in quantum circuitry.
The Fredkin Gate or controlled-SWAP gate is a mechanism that maps 2 bits, based on the value of a third. If this is applied to quantum computing, it will allow greater control over qubits by allowing the values of two to be swapped. This quantum circuitry is incredibly complex and the creation of this gate has been impossible until now. The standard five logical operations that are required for a regular Fredkin Gate have been reduced to a single operation by researchers from Griffith University and the University of Queensland who utilized quantum entanglement of particles of light to make it possible. In short, this research proves the possibility of constructing large gates in quantum circuitry without requiring them to be constructed from a number of smaller logic gates.
This research, along with Florida State University National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’s work on developing “noise cancelling” technology to reduce the interference of magnetism on qubits, could be the stepping-stones that quantum computing really needs to get its feet outside of specific purpose machines. Hopefully, in the near future, we will see how these researchers and others put all these advancements together and we may just see a fully fledged quantum computer sooner than we think.
Mention quantum computing to anyone involved with technology and their eyes will light up like its Christmas day. With the theoretical ability to complete thousands of complicated calculations in a fraction of the time that it takes the most advanced processor available on the market, quantum computing could see your phone becoming as powerful as your computer. While such a great concept the technology needed is far from complete, but maybe one step closer thanks to the recent work to incorporate noise canceling technology into their design.
Quantum computing relies on quantum bits, the problem being is the “noise” these bits encounter. The noise is normally in the form of magnetic disturbances, and if that computer is calculating your finances or the medicine dose you need you really don’t want someone putting a fridge magnet nearby messing it up. Researchers at Florida State University National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) have instead decided to cancel out this noise using the quantum equivalent of noise-cancelling headphones.
Thanks to specially designed tungsten oxide molecules, MagLab were able to keep a quantum bit working without interference for 8.4 microseconds. While that may not seem like long, in the quantum world that time could calculate any number of operations and is a step towards making quantum computing a feasible technology for corporate and public use.
With the likes of NASA and Google working on creating a usable quantum computer, I for one am hoping that I get to see a quantum computer within the next twenty years. A single quantum computer could replace all the advanced servers and systems used by Google and Microsoft, offering us the ability to miniaturize our systems, creating even smarter systems in even smaller packages.
Two years ago, NASA and Google decided to get together and invest in a D-Wave 2X quantum computer as part of an experiment to gauge the performance increase of solving a “quantum annealing” problem on a quantum computer over a conventional computer. It only comes today, however, that Google were able to announce that during their experiments, a quantum computer containing over 1000 qubits was able to solve the problem 100 million times faster than a conventional single-core computer.
The D-Wave computer purchased by NASA and Google was supposedly the world’s first functional quantum computer, however up until recently it was never conclusively proven that the computer truly tapped into quantum processing. Quite simply, a quantum computer is different to a regular computer right down to the fundamental level. A conventional computer stores and handles data as bits, which can either be a 1 or a 0. A quantum computer can instead have each bit (or qubit) be both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously. For example, a regular 8 bits can hold one of 256 values, while 8 qubits can hold all 256 values simultaneously. This allows for calculations to theoretically be completed at vastly greater speeds than normal using a quantum computer.
Of course, this announcement, while potentially groundbreaking amongst researchers and scientists, isn’t going to bring quantum computing to the masses any time soon. For starters, the D-Wave used was engineered specifically for the type of problem used in the test, which was an optimization problem using over 900 binary variables. This type of problem offers a large number of potential solutions to a problem and aims to produce the most efficient result, with complexity greatly increasing with the number of variables added.
While this may seem like a niche use of such powerful computing tools, NASA and other groups have many such problems containing large amounts of data, which currently require large amounts of supercomputing commitment to solve currently, such as air traffic control data modelling and space missions. With Rupak Biswas, director of exploration technology at NASA Ames stating that “NASA has a wide variety of applications that cannot be optimally solved on traditional supercomputers in a realistic timeframe due to their exponential complexity, so systems that use quantum effects … provide an opportunity to solve such problems.”
It will be interesting to see what the other two D-Wave computers in existence (held in Los Alamos National Laboratory and by Lockheed Martin for the University of Southern California respectively) can produce, and if they can find more uses for the computers that may help to develop them into more generalized computing systems. For now, it seems like the world of home quantum computers and advanced AI is a way off, but this could be a very real glimpse at the speed and power of the computers of tomorrow.
According to The Register, NSA in planning to build a quantum computer capable of analysing everything that is going on the Internet. And they have a big budget allocated for it too, around $80 million dedicated for the quantum computer development.
The main goal described is something that the NSA had in mind for some time now. A computer that can perform massive amounts of processes which can break the traditional encryption system. And since we live in an era where technology is advancing at a rapid pace, the NSA wants to keep up with it as much as it can.
“The application of quantum technologies to encryption algorithms threatens to dramatically impact the US government’s ability to both protect its communications and eavesdrop on the communications of foreign governments,” according to an internal document provided by Snowden.
And the US are not alone in quantum computing development. The EU and Switzerland are developing their own quantum computers as well. And the competition may become tense as more and more countries could start developing such computers. Currently, there is only one Canadian company named D-Wave which is selling quantum computing systems to Google and NASA. President Vern Brownell however shed some light on this matter and told The Register that they are only performing quantum-speed calculations for a variety of tasks and not selling full-fledged quantum computers.
D-Wave’s product is based on Shor’s algorithm, a method invented in 1994 using quantum factorization which has the ability to break most modern encryption systems. But Brownell stated that they are not interested in utilizing it for such actions.
“Folks say to us ‘you can’t do Shor’s algorithm,’ but we don’t want to do Shor’s algorithm,” Brownell said. “You can’t build a business around decrypting.”
However, the NSA is surely interested in this particular algorithm and want to build a Shor-based computing system with the funding allocated in their research. If they are successful, the NSA will be able to access any type of security, anywhere in the world, at any given time. But it’s a long way from theoretical talk to practical results.
Thank you The Register for providing us with this information