We’re Close to a Universal Quantum Computer, Here’s Where We’re At
Articles,  Blog

We’re Close to a Universal Quantum Computer, Here’s Where We’re At


What you’re looking at is a hermetically
sealed glass laboratory. Scientists here are engineering special chips
that could power the next computing revolution: a universal quantum computer. Chances are you’ve heard of quantum computer
and that they’re going to change everything. “So quantum computers have the potential
to completely change how we use technology in the future.” “The computational power is off the charts.” “What’s about to happen with quantum computing
is about to make the past look incredibly slow.” Quantum computer are new kinds of machines
that promise an exponential growth spurt in processing power, capable of tackling problems
our computers today can’t solve. While an encryption busting/global problem
solving quantum computer doesn’t exist yet, the field has gained some serious momentum. “We’ve reached a point where it’s pretty
clear that those performance numbers are good enough now you could build a real product,
a real piece of technology out of this idea. When that threshold got crossed, people started
to place their bets.” Tech giants like IBM and Google, and startups
like Rigetti Computing are all in something of a scientific race to building the first
universal quantum computer. But to understand what makes a quantum computer
so uniquely powerful, you’ll need to know a bit about quantum mechanics. “Quantum mechanics is the field that describes
the simplest things around us, individual electrons or atoms, or particles of light
like photons. The fascinating thing is, when you look at
these very simple systems, they don’t really obey the same rules that the world around
us does. We use sort of two very important properties
of quantum mechanics. One of them is superposition of states and
the other one is entanglement.” “When we talk about classical computing,
we often hear the word ‘bit’ and bit can refer to 0 or 1. You can also think it as a binary state. You have a switch, it can be on or it can
be off. For instance, when you’re physically typing
commands into your computer to write an email, each letter you strike on the keyboard is
translated to a unique string of 0s and 1s that are being switched on and off to digitally
represent your words.” But with superposition, quantum computer can
do things differently. “Instead of using these bits, these zeros
or ones, we use what’s called qubits, which are quantum bits and these bits instead of
being a zero or a one, can either be any combination of a zero and a one… This is something that arises because of quantum
mechanics and allows us to do more tricks.” “Now, there’s a very special form of superposition
known as entanglement, which is even more interesting. What you have is the ability to have two qubits
in superposition states. Essentially, they can only be understood with
a collective element of both quits. “In the quantum computer you can use that
lingering interaction to do all sorts of really interesting types of calculations where different
qubits have this persistent ghostly connection with each other and if you flip this qubit
around, this one over here will feel it. If you do that in a controlled way, you can
move lots and lots of information around within your quantum mechanical system really efficiently.” But controlling qubits and constructing the
right quantum architecture are today’s major engineering challenges which is why quantum
computers and the labs that house them today, look like this. “It’s right where computers were in the
’50s or ’40s….where you had technicians plugging and unplugging things all over the
place on some wall of electronics. You want things when you’re first building
them to be really modular and reconfigurable.” To build a quantum computer, you need to start
with a quantum chip and Rigetti, IBM, and other tech companies are investing in something
called superconducting qubits. “A superconducting qubit is just metal on
a silicon chip. That metal is arranged in such a way that
when you cool it down to a low enough temperature, the metal becomes superconducting. All the electrons can flow without electrical
resistance, they can actually take on individual quantum states. They’re six inches in size, so it’s about
this big. There’s typically anywhere between a few dozen
to a few hundred chips on this wafer. They get packaged into a circuit board that
lets us make connections onto that chip. When you’re making circuits on silicon, you
have to have the environment be really free of dust and contaminants, because we have
very small features on these chips, and a piece of dust can screw them up.” “In order to cool them down, you need an
entire infrastructure of refrigeration, and for that we rely on something called dilution
refrigerators. we cool these chips down to around 10-15 milikelvin. The most noticeable sound you hear is the
cryocoolers. They work by pulsing helium gas into and out
of this refrigerator system in such a way that it’s just continuously drawing heat out
of the interior of the fridge. Besides the refrigerator there’s an entire
suite of hardware components… coaxual cables, attenuators, microwave amplifiers, circulators,
a whole bevvy of components that all need to function at low temperatures.” “In order to sort of control the qubits
we have a lot of hardware that sends pulses and signals to the qubits. We use this thing which we call a resonator
which is sort of sensitive to the state of the qubit. We like to say it’s like a middleman and its
state will change depending on the state of the qubit and we can read it and talk to it
more easily than we can talk to the qubit.” Though the teams have different approaches,
they’re respectively finessing their techniques: tweaking the intensity of microwave pulses,
the temperature, the manufacturing of the superconducting qubits and testing new quantum
algorithms. There’s a lot of work to do because at this
stage, the amount of time a quit can retain its quantumness is still pretty short. “The single biggest challenge all the time
is always how do you make these qubits last as long as possible? Coherence times is how long quantum information
lasts inside of a qubit. If you put a qubit from the zero-state to
the one-state, and you just wait 100 microseconds, 200 microseconds, at some point that extra
little bit of energy will decay out of the qubit.” “All of the noise that we actually have
in physical systems results in error rates that are still not quite good enough to perform
these proven quantum algorithms.” In a head to head match between quantum computers
and classical computers today, our laptops still dominate, at least for now. “Today’s quantum computers aren’t big enough
or high-performing enough to actually do something better than a classical computer. That’s going to change pretty soon. An example of this is, it is impossible for
a computer to anticipate what a molecule would do in the human body, right? This is something that the drug development
industry has to spend billions of dollars figuring out by just guessing and checking. Nature doesn’t store information in zeros
and ones. The operating system of nature is quantum
mechanics. If you want to simulate a quantum system,
you need something that can do it quantum mechanically. That’s the kind of problem that a quantum
computer can solve. “ Because quantum computers can analyze large
quantities of data & spot patterns quickly, they could tackle optimization problems for
transportation and industry, advance climate modeling, and boost artificial intelligence
research one day. But for those wondering when they’ll be
able to pick up a quantum laptop… “You won’t have a personal laptop that is
a quantum computer. A quantum computer will be a little bit more
behind the scenes.” Quantum computers are still in the experimental
stage, but their raw potential and imminent arrival are sure to cause a paradigm shift
in computing physics, and potentially our understanding of the world we live in today. “You’re working on an extremely challenging
and hard problem where every day you’re thinking about really hard physics, debugging experiments,
working with hardware, writing a lot of code, collaborating.” “Much like the development of classical
computers, where no one would have probably predicted where we are today with the technologies that emerged from classical computers such as with our mobile phones, laptops. That it’s really
hard for us to even predict what are going to be the off shoot technologies. Where is quantum computing actually going to bring us into the future?” For more science documentaries, check out this one right here. Don’t forget to subscribe and keep coming back to Seeker for more videos.

100 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *