How It Would Work: Creating a Quantum ComputerQuantum Physics, Technology Monday, April 16th, 2012 (PopSci) Silicon semiconductors have taken us a dazzling distance along the computing road. But even if they continue unabated to get faster and more powerful (and it’s growing more difficult to make that happen) there’s a limit to what classical computing can do.
The next real game-change in computing is quantum–tapping the quantum mechanical properties of materials to process information in ways that will make today’s biggest and baddest super computers look like pocket calculators. And for the first time scientists, at places like IBM, are moving beyond just theorizing about them to actually envisioning how a finished quantum computer would work. In labs across the globe, the first building blocks of the first quantum computers are slowly becoming real.
That’s huge considering a working quantum computer would be the kind of thing that truly moves the ground beneath our feet. With a relatively modest quantum computer, scientists could slice through sophisticated encryption schemes, model quantum systems with unprecedented accuracy, and filter through complex, unstructured databases with unparalleled efficiency.
But first they have to build one. The idea of quantum computing was introduced in the early 1980s by physicist Richard Feynman, and the field is still very much in its infancy. But as a discipline it’s turning a critical corner as the theoretical meshes with the practical. There’s more than one way to build a quantum computer, and it’s still far too early in the game to know which–if any–of these approaches will produce a working system. But between all of these varied approaches to tapping the quantum world, there’s one common thread: it’s all about the qubit.
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Photo: IBM Research