Thanks to the collaborative effort of an international team of scientists led by Professor Winfried Hensinger of the University of Sussex in UK, the world may have gotten one step closer to building the most powerful computer ever — a large-scale quantum computer capable of solving ultra-complex problems that will take a regular computer billions of years to solve.
Quantum computers work quite differently from conventional computers. Instead of typical computer ‘bits’ that can represent either the value ‘0’ or ‘1’, quantum computers use ‘qubits’ (short for quantum bits) that are capable of representing either ‘1’ or ‘0’, or both at the same time. This is made possible by the extraordinary property of qubits known as ‘superpositioning’ — the ability to exist as two different states at the same time.
Superpositioning is what allows quantum computers to effectively handle complex calculations simultaneously. But it is also this particular state that makes quantum computers difficult to build. That’s because an ion in superposition cannot be allowed to come into contact with anything from the outside given the fact that as soon as it does it loses its superposition state, reverting into just one state and consequently removing its ‘quantumness’ and its ability for super-computing.
Unlike current models that make use of fiber optic connections to link individual computer modules, the new model makes use of electric fields that enable charged atoms (also known as ions) to create connections by moving from one computer module to another. With this approach, connection speed becomes 100,000 times faster. And the previous challenges that prevented practical quantum computers from being built appear to have been addressed.
Most notably, the computer that will be built using this model will be able to operate at room temperature, in contrast with other designs that require superconductors cooled to absurd temperatures. And instead of using lasers to keep the ions in place, this model would rely on strong magnetic fields, large enough to ensure that the ion qubits will be protected from any interference so they will be able to retain their quantum states. As Elizabeth Gibney, one of the researchers, explained to Nature, “To tune individual qubits in and out of interaction with the wider field, they need only apply a local voltage.”
A quantum computer of this scale brings with it a promise that more than just demonstrating how a quantum computer works, it can actually be used for practical purposes such as developing superior pharmaceutical drugs, decoding encrypted communications, explaining the most profound mysteries about life and our universe, and solving many other ultra-complicated scientific and mathematical problems. As Hensinger told Seeker, his team’s blueprint could have enough calculating power to “replicate the quantum-level complexity of nature”.
“It is the Holy Grail of science, really, to build a quantum computer”, noted Hensinger, adding that “Life will change completely. We will be able to do certain things we could never even dream of before…You can imagine that suddenly the sky is the limit.”
But, this is an undertaking that’s going to need time, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars, and vast amounts of space that will probably take up entire buildings. Reason being, a large-scale quantum computer that will be built using this blueprint could expand to accommodate quantum computers with 5 thousand to 5 billion qubits.
According to Hensinger, they’re hoping that they will be able to build their own small-scale modular quantum computer prototype within two years. But by open-sourcing it, an invitation to other devs and scientists to participate in the effort has been extended. This way, there’s a higher chance that the technology can be improved further, sooner, so we won’t have to wait too long before quantum computing can hopefully become accessible to everyone.
The blueprint has been published through the journal Science Advances.