An announcement issued this week claims that the US government will be funding IBM’s quantum-computing research. If they become a reality, quantum computers would be the fastest in the world.
Up to this moment the fastest (super)computer in the world is Tianhe-2 in China. Tianhe-2 occupies a space of almost 8,000 square-feet and it’s able of performing operations at a record speed of 34 petaflops. That is 34 trillion operations every second.
Similar speeds are wanted by governments, large companies and universities everywhere, for being able to perform operations and modelling simulations which have thousands of independent variable. Some fields which would benefit from a power like that are traffic control, sciences operating molecular modelling and cryptanalysis.
However, Tianhe-2 is no different from other supercomputers when it comes to its digital design. Traditional digital design operates with bits which represent either a 1 or a 0.
On the other side, quantum computers have atom-sized bits which, besides 0 and 1 can also represent a superposition of both 1 and 0 at the same time – a 01. That means that 3 quantum bits – named qubits – can have 8 simultaneous values, making them a lot more faster than the fastest supercomputer based on traditional digital design.
Quantum computers have been proposed for the first time in the 1980s but only in theory. Since then, researchers are trying to actually build them but have only been able to produce physical components only a few years ago.
IBM has built the fastest quantum computer which has only 8 qubits. That’s because qubits are very sensitive especially to temperature changes and electromagnetic interference. To produce qubits that would work without errors, they need to stay at a temperature of absolute zero (-459F).
But things are about to change for IBM and quantum computing after this week’s announcement that the government will be funding their research.
Recently, the Company has made some important steps into stabilizing qubits and their next plan includes the encoding of imperfect qubits into a logical qubit that would make operations without errors. This could be the foundation of future quantum computers which could have many more qubits.
Director of engineering at Google claims that a quantum computer could solve in only one second problems that for a traditional single-core would take 10,000 years.
Quantum computers will open the way for new huge-scale research in many fields, ranging from genomics to climate change but also in civilian fields like air travel companies. They are the future of computing.
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