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Researchers achieve key milestone in move toward commercial quantum computing

By Barry He | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-04-05 23:57


Quantum computing could reshape how we solve complex problems and process sums of data previously thought impossible to handle.

What could take today's computers thousands of years to solve, quantum computers could potentially calculate in seconds.

This is possible through exploiting the unique capabilities of quantum particles (or qubits) to be able to be in two places at once, and communicate mysteriously with each other even if they are millions of miles apart.

Everything from producing more efficient engines to simulating chemical reactions for developing new medicine, more powerful computing could lead to a plethora of innovation breakthroughs across the scientific disciplines and technology.

As promising as this sounds, building practical quantum computers has been tricky for engineers. Getting qubits to move between quantum chips fast and accurately has always been a major obstacle.

In February, researchers from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom announced a breakthrough, after managing to solve this problem by cleverly using electrical fields. Quantum information was transferred between chips at record speed with an accuracy of over 99 percent.

By demonstrating that two quantum computing chips can be connected opens the way to scalability, as it means chips can be linked together, like a jigsaw, to create powerful processors.

Proving that this is possible is a major step forward in building machines that can perform functional computations using the technology.

Companies such as Google and IBM have been attempting to engineer simple quantum computers for decades now, at a slow pace. Transferring information between chips has proven difficult, especially when trying to transfer data from one point to another fast and reliably without inducing errors.

Simple quantum computations can be performed in laboratory settings, but in the real world such technology will need to operate in imperfect and unpredictable environments.

Anything from fluctuations in voltage to stray electromagnetic fields from other surrounding devices could all throw the delicate balance of quantum particles out of balance.

When dealing in the realm of the subatomic, delicacy is key, and so breakthroughs such as these could soon lead to further understandings in tapping into quantum processing technology.

Many challenges remain before quantum computing promises to unlock more secrets of reality for scientists.

Quantum computers need to be kept at an extremely cold temperature of absolute zero to minimize interference, which can cause issues when they enter mainstream research facilities. Keeping conditions stable enough for subatomic particles to work their magic is extremely challenging, and the technology is still very much in its early stages.

Slow progress is being made, and however primitive their current state is, their future potential is a worthy incentive.

When the first transistor for traditional modern computing was made in 1947, nobody could predict the impact it would have in the decades to come, with the use of smartphones and laptops just over half a century later.

The belief that quantum computing will also lead to disruptive technologies in the near future still motivates scientists to keep pushing forward. How long it may take to reach this stage, however, is something nobody is certain about.

Predicting future technologies is always difficult, and many technologies go through bursts of advancement and stagnation.

Progress in battery energy storage for example, has remained relatively stuck for many years now, which has in turn held back many other areas of innovation.

Our understanding in genetics and gene editing however, has undergone a renaissance in the last ten years, with new stem cell treatments for cancer such as Car-T therapies now available that would have been impossible even 15 years ago.

The hope is that quantum computing will follow the lead of the latter, and offer us new insights into how we can further innovation across scientific disciplines.

Barry He is a London-based columnist for China Daily.

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