Currently quantum computers are tested in super cold environments. This is due to the amount of heat that the components generate as the components are super small and require stability at the current they operate at.
Scientists and researchers at Google and the university of California teamed up to explore the development of quantum computers, and how to make them more stable. The new research was published in the journal Nature, on March 4th 2015. To understand the importance you just have to consider that there are some calculations that would take today’s computers years to complete with the current processing power. Quantum computers on the other hand would be able to perform such calculations in seconds. The breakthrough from this research has some scientists claiming that we are now half way there to having fully operational quantum computers.
Quantum Computer Differences
So what makes a quantum computer different from a from a normal computer? It has to do with what is called qubits. Today’s computers use bits to store information as either a 1 or 0. Qubits take advantage of a strange phenomenon in physics where very small particles can exists in multiple places at the same time. This means that a qubit can technically exist as both a 1 and 0. This allows computers to store exponentially more information than a regular computer. With a regular computer you can only hold information in one of the four possible combinations, which are 00, 01, 10, or 11. A qubit can hold all of these combinations simultaneously.
Qubits by their nature are incredibly unstable. This means that they can make lots of errors. The reason for this is that the information they hold can only exist for a milliseconds before their state collapses. For a quantum computer to ever be a viable device, scientists have to work out a method for linking the qubits together in arrays. This is where they are physically separate from each other but are all still connected. When you do anything that affects one of the qubits, you should be able to affect another so they can effectively communicate with each other. The breakthrough from the research conducted by Google and UCSB has been the ability to stabilize an array of 9 qubits.
There were still errors though, but they could be proven to be self corrected. These errors however are the same type of errors that would show up on a regular computer. The real test of quantum computing is being able to fix the errors that show up in quantum computers, and this will require more complicated programming. This is something we can expect to see within the next few years though. Daniel Gottesman, who is a scientist that works at the Perimeter Institute in Canada, and whose specialty is quantum error correction, told MIT Technology Review that he expects this to happen, and a demonstration of an array of qubits that completely protect against the kind of errors that would take place inside a quantum computer.
So why do we need quantum computers? Well they have the potential to approach common problems very differently from traditional computers. Quantum computers can’t add up numbers any faster, what they can do however is mimic the human brain better. This gives rise to really interesting applications. Instead of the normal approach that computers take to solving a problem like which route would be the quickest from a choice of 10, quantum computers could do it so much better. The basic method would be to calculate each of the routes, and then compare them at the end. With a quantum computer, each of the routes would be calculated simulationsly, and compared in real time.
There are many applications to the technology of today. Picking out patterns is a strong skill of quantum computers. Its a skill that the human brain can do easily. If you imagine wheres waldo, and the brains ability to almost always nearly find him from such a large collection of data. Its this type of pattern recognition that would be great for satellite photos, and predictions of the weather and natural disasters. Quantum computers could calculate and predict patterns much faster than any computer we have today. Its this type of technology we call machine learning
The Future of Quantum
The future of quantum computing looks very bright, and is nearing fruition more and more every day. One of the key researchers from the UCSB has teamed up with Google to create the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory where they plan to keep experimenting. Yale has also teamed up with IBM, and they are developing their own quantum computer jointly.