SILICON QUANTUM COMPUTERS
An international team of Australian-led scientists have recently overcome a major hurdle in the race for quantum computing efficacy. Some background: in order for quantum computers to be usable in the real-world, they have to contain ‘surface error-correction code’ that catches above 99% of errors faster than they appear.
Coincidentally, three independent but interrelated research teams managed this feat in a photo finish. Groups from UNSW Sydney, Delft in the Netherlands and RIKEN in Japan all published their results in Nature journal on the same day.
All three achieved error detection accuracy, or ‘fidelity’, above this 99% threshold for both one and two qubit systems, with the team from UNSW Sydney achieving up to 99.95% fidelity. This stands as confirmation that reliable silicon-based quantum computing is possible.
As previous estimates didn’t expect fault-tolerant quantum computing to be achieved until 2030, this represents a major overcoming of the key physical barrier to scalability in the sector.
Find out more in this video by the UNSW team:
HOW DOES QUANTUM COMPUTING WORK?
Unlike modern computing systems that run on binary code – storing data in bit combinations of 1’s and 0’s – quantum computers utilise ‘qubits’.
Qubits are achieved by putting atomic nuclei into a state of ‘spin’ – allowing data to be stored with properties of 1 and 0 simultaneously. This vastly raises the threshold of information that can be computed at a given moment in time.
“If you have two nuclei that are connected to the same electron, you can make them do a quantum operation,” says Dr. Mateusz Mądzik, one of the lead experimental authors from UNSW.
“While you don’t operate the electron, those nuclei safely store their quantum information. But now you have the option of making them talk to each other via the electron, to realise universal quantum operations that can be adapted to any computational problem.”
“This really is an unlocking technology,” says Dr. Serwan Asaad, another lead experimental author. “The nuclear spins are the core quantum processor. If you entangle them with the electron, then the electron can then be moved to another place and entangled with other qubit nuclei further afield, opening the way to making large arrays of qubits capable of robust and useful computations.”
WHAT ARE THE USE CASES?
The UNSW team hopes to build “a universal quantum computer non-specific to any one application”. Should they do so, fault-tolerant silicon-based quantum computing could become the new standard, replacing our current systems. What would this world look like?
According to business consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, the key industries affected will likely be pharmaceuticals, chemicals, automotive and finance. They also provide that interest in quantum computing overall is definitely growing – with private funding for this sector doubling in 2021 relative to 2020.
The BBC also provides that the potential for quantum computers in data theft is a key area of concern for the quantum world. Private data could be stolen in seconds if current password encryption doesn’t become significantly more complex – some are calling this a possible ‘quantum apocalypse’.
Cloud-based quantum computing may be the central part of this ecosystem, particularly before personal or mobile quantum computers are commercially viable.
However, as this fault-tolerant threshold has been crossed sooner than expected, we may see consumer-ready quantum computation in our phones before we know it. Maybe one day soon we’ll hear from Apple – an iPhone Q could be just around the corner.