The Next Computing Revolution: Quantum Chips
There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about quantum computing and how it promises to revolutionize the computing world. But for many years this has been quite theoretical, with little advancement in practical terms. However, that seems to now be changing, with several exciting advancements in the production of quantum chips.
First off, for those of you not well versed in the topics, let’s take a quick dive into what quantum computing is. Quantum computers operate in a totally different way to conventional digital computers at the fundamental level. Quantum computing depends on the principles of quantum mechanics, utilising the quirky physics of electrons and photons that exist at the molecular level. It includes encoding and handling data by controlling quantum states, depending on the wonders of superposition and snare.
In standard computing, information is encoded as binary digits or ‘bits’ that are represented by a ‘0’ or ‘1’. However, with quantum computing these are known as a quantum bit or ‘qubit’, which can exist either as ‘0’ or ‘1’ or as a simultaneous combination of both ‘0’ and ‘1’, because of the concept of superposition. By combining multiple qubits, and utilizing a phenomenon called quantum entanglement, it allows for the encoding of information in a large number of states simultaneously, allowing quantum computers to perform computations for tasks that would be all but impossible for even the largest supercomputers in the world right now. Quantum chips take this technology and reduce it down to the scale of a chip, rather than the room size computing monstrosities that were created less than a decade ago.
One of the most recent breakthroughs in the creation of quantum computer chips has come from Cambridge-based quantum specialist Riverlane’s work with New York and London-based digital quantum company Seeqc. They are the first company in the world to create a quantum computing chip that has an integrated operating system to oversee workflow and qubit management. This is a truly remarkable achievement – one that many people are speculating could spark a computing revolution.
Dr Matthew Hutchings, London-based chief product officer and co-founder of Seeqc, said: “This is the first time we have built an integrated quantum computing chip based on our unique scalable architecture and run a programme on it. We achieved stability and full-stack control and, in so doing, also a remarkable moment for the evolution of quantum computing.”
Google has also announced there ascension to “quantum supremacy” with the unveiling of it’s brand new Sycamore chip. In a paper published in Nature, the Silicon Valley giant claimed to have made a major breakthrough in the field of quantum computing – allowing them to solve calculations that would take centuries to complete with traditional computing methods.
Google’s 54-qubit Sycamore chips took a mind blowing 200 seconds to perform calculations that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete. That’s the time it takes to boil an egg. Imagine what could be done with that processing power!
Frank Arute from Google AI to TechRadar: “This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm.”
This achievement has done little to bring down the cost to the point where it is practical to mass-produce this kind of chip, but it is an incredible step forward for the technology.
Not to be left out of the game, Microsoft have been working on quantum chips of their own. In collaboration with engineers from the University of Sydney, Bill Gates’ baby has created a chip that blows the lid off of the limits to the number of qubits able to be utilized in a quantum computer. Professor David Reilly, a designer of the chip and engineer for both Microsoft and the University of Sydney, said in a statement.
“The world’s biggest quantum computers currently operate with just 50 or so qubits, this small scale is partly because of limits to the physical architecture that control the qubits… Our new chip puts an end to those limits.”
Unfortunately, the chip operates at a temperature of near absolute zero, which puts a considerable dent in the practicality and energy efficiency of the technology. But it is still a welcome step forwards.
Quantum computing has the power to create a whole new class of super computer and give unfathomable amounts of computing power in the hands of humanity. Allowing for massive acceleration of big data analytics and machine learning. We can only wait and see what it will bring to us in the near future.
By Josh Hamilton