The race to create a fully operational quantum computer is still ongoing and is highly dependent on the development of new technologies. Engineers believe that these computers are the future of processing and will replace silicon chips in the same way that transistors replaced the vacuum tube.
Presently, the technology needed to create such a computer is mostly theoretical, but with multiple large companies, such as Google and IBM, actively researching the subject, quantum computing is getting closer and closer to reality.
Downsides of Existing Quantum Computers
In its current stage of development, the most advanced quantum computer has not managed to manipulate more than 72 quantum bits, or qubits. This means that they are unable to be used for any reasonable practical application. If technology is developed to manipulate more qubits, a quantum computer will be able to outperform even the most advanced supercomputers in the world. The potential of these computers is exciting as they could perform large complex calculations incredibly quickly compared to conventional computers.
It should be noted the qubits are the quantum form of the traditional binary bit and are the unit of quantum information. Unlike their conventional predecessor, qubits can be both 1 and 0 at the same time.
The difference between classical bits and qubits is that we can also prepare qubits in a quantum superposition of 0 and 1 and create nontrivial correlated states of a number of qubits, so-called 'entangled states’.
Alexey Fedorov, from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
So far, researchers have been able to keep qubits in the quantum state for a very small fraction of a second. When qubits fall out of this state, lots of errors occur and therefore these processors have yet to be found reliable.
There have been several advances in the field in the last decade or so. Many companies have created working prototypes but have yet to solidify a design for a fully operational computer. A startup company called Rigetti has decided to focus on stabilizing their systems and therefore is thought to be the closest to creating a quantum computer that can actually be used. Furthermore, Intel announced early this year that they had developed a way to manufacture quantum chips using silicon, therefore streamlining the fabrication process currently available.
One of the questions that remain unanswered is whether the qubits will operate in miniature ‘loops’ of superconducting wire cooled to ultra-low temperatures, or whether they will ions in a magnetic field.
Barriers to Advancing Quantum Computing
Another hurdle to the progress of quantum computing is the sensitivity of the qubits. Smooth operation, even at this early stage of development, is extremely challenging because they are very susceptible to outside influence. Factors such as vibration or heat, cause the qubits to decohere meaning that they must be trapped in complete isolation. The most effective way to do this is a problem that has yet to be solved.
While quantum computers may not be available for a long time, the hope is that these computers will be used for specialized applications of chemistry and physics and will have significant benefits for research and medical fields.