When quantum computers forget: conquering decoherence
There’s no point in having a quantum computer if it doesn’t smoke fast; otherwise it’s way too much of a problem, with all the subzero temperatures and instability and so on. So it’s always interesting to see someone set a new standard for quantum computing processing speeds, even though quantum computers are far from mainstream commercial use.
In this case, it’s IBM, which recently announced that its new quantum computing processor, called Eagle, has broken through the 100-qubit barrier. IBM
Fusion says boldly (albeit awkwardly) that it views Eagle “as a step in a technological revolution in the history of computing.” (Looks like an algorithm wrote this sentence! Is this where you’re leading us, Big Blue? A quantum future of inconsistent technical language?)
I’m too hard on IBM, which humbly notes that its record accomplishment was not the product of a brilliant idea or sudden epiphany. It was hard job, baby!
“Building a processor that breaks the hundred qubit barrier was not something we could do overnight,” says IBM Fusion. “Building one of these devices is a huge challenge. Qubits can decoher – or forget their quantum information – with the slightest nudge from the outside world. “
So true, which is why I mentioned the jitter issue at the start of this post. Decoherence is one of the biggest challenges in quantum computing. Like American scientist explains, the use of quantum states “leaves the quantum computer much more vulnerable to errors than a conventional computer would be.”
“These errors arise from decoherence, a process in which the environment interacts with qubits, uncontrollably altering their quantum states and causing the loss of information stored by the quantum computer.” American scientist writing. “Decoherence could come from many aspects of the environment: changing magnetic and electric fields, radiation from hot nearby objects, or crosstalk between qubits. “
In its announcement, IBM Fusion does not spend time explaining the importance of Eagle breaking the 100-qubit processing speed barrier beyond generalizations such as “Our team solves hardware and software challenges to ultimately achieve a quantum computer capable of solving practical problems in fields ranging from renewables to finance and more.
There is no inherent significance to the 100-qubit processing speed barrier, other than as a progress marker. Indeed, IBM’s Quantum roadmap calls for a 1,000-qubit chip by the end of 2023, or 10 times the processing speed in less than two years. Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft, D-Wave Systems, Intel, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard and many other companies, as well as countries like China, Germany, Canada, United States, India and the Japan, are also developing quantum computing technology.
IBM has declared it is the Quantum Decade, in which “companies are starting to see the business value of quantum computing”. Big Blue describes the early adoption phase. (I would be more inclined to call the period of Mass embracing the quantum decade, but IBM once again neglected to ask me for marketing advice.)
Once quantum computing is widely deployed, expect it to be used, among other things, to:
- Model complex molecular configurations to accelerate material discovery and drug development
- Combine with artificial intelligence to enable even faster AI and eventually lead to the development of “thinking” computers
- Quickly identify points of failure in complex manufacturing processes
- Process natural language much faster and more accurately than existing AI algorithms
- Increase the speed of complex financial calculations
- Crack encrypted data easily, making fun of your puny, classic computer cyber defenses (or is it Jurassic?)
A resolutely mixed bag. But that’s the problem with emerging technologies; they can be used and misused. Overall, however, quantum computing will be of a huge net benefit to businesses, scientists, researchers, and anyone who needs to do what quickly. Harvard Affairs Review appeals “Combinatorial calculations”. Whenever the Quantum Decade really begins, it will be exciting.
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