London: IBM scientists have made a significant step towards creating ‘quantum computers’ that would be faster than any supercomputer on Earth.
They have achieved a breakthrough in ‘quantum computing’ – described as the ‘new frontier’ in computing.
IBM has created working components using the technology - its scientists say the next step is ‘creating systems.’
A working quantum computer would be capable of millions of calculations at once – and able to crack any computer code on Earth.
The most basic piece of information that a typical computer understands is a bit. Much like a light that can be switched on or off, a bit can have only one of two values: ‘1’ or ‘0’.
Qubits – or quantum bits – can hold a value of ‘1’ or ‘0’ as well as both values at the same time. This is what allows quantum computers to perform millions of calculations at once.
While current computers can calculate very rapidly, they can only perform a limited number of calculations at the same time.
A fully functioning quantum computer could perform millions at the same time. It would instantly be the most powerful computing device ever created by mankind.
The machines could also solve mathematical problems that have remained impossible for humanity - until now.
The quest to create a ‘quantum computer’ has been a Holy Grail of computing ever since physicist Richard Feynman challenged scientists to create a computer based on quantum physics in 1981.
For decades, the work has been theoretical.
“In the past, people have said, maybe it’s 50 years away, it’s a dream, maybe it’ll happen sometime,” the Daily Mail quoted Mark Ketchen of IBM’s Watson Research Centre as saying.
“I used to think it was 50. Now I’m thinking like it’s 15 or a little more. It’s within reach. It’s within our lifetime. It’s going to happen,” he said.
The ‘qubits’ created by IBM scientists exploit a bizarre property of quantum physics that mean that a quantum computer ‘bit’, or unit of information - a ‘qubit’ - can be both 1 and 0 at once.
A 250-qubit array would contain more ‘bits’ of information than there are atoms in the entire universe. IBM says that the next step is ‘creating systems’ that exploit this power.
The scientists say that their experiments have moved forward by a factor of ‘100 to 1000’ times since they started in 2009.
“The quantum computing work we are doing shows it is no longer just a brute force physics experiment. It``s time to start creating systems based on this science that will take computing to a new frontier,” said IBM scientist Matthias Steffen.
“These properties will have wide-spread implications foremost for the field of data encryption where quantum computers could factor very large numbers like those used to decode and encode sensitive information,” the company added.
The scientists are experimenting with several different quantum-computing techniques.
Among the results, the IBM team extended the amount of time that the qubits retain their quantum states up to 100 microseconds – an improvement of 2 to 4 times upon previously reported records.
This value reaches just past the minimum threshold to ‘control’ errors in the data – and suggests scientists can now move on to engineering other aspects of a quantum computer.
IBM describes itself as being, “Very close to the minimum requirements for a full-scale quantum computing system as determined by the world-wide research community.”