IBM research advances device performance for quantum computing

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  1. Matthew
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    IBM research advances device performance for quantum computing
    February 28, 2012
    IBM research advances device performance for quantum computing

    A picture of IBM’s “3D” superconducting qubit device where a qubit (about 1mm in length) is suspended in the center of the cavity on a small Sapphire chip. The cavity is formed by closing the two halves, and measurements are done by passing microwave signals to the connectors. Despite the apparent large feature size (the cavity is about 1.5 inches wide) for this single qubit demonstration, the team believes it is possible to scale such a system to hundreds or thousands of qubits.

    (PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at IBM Research have achieved major advances in quantum computing device performance that may accelerate the realization of a practical, full-scale quantum computer. For specific applications, quantum computing, which exploits the underlying quantum mechanical behavior of matter, has the potential to deliver computational power that is unrivaled by any supercomputer today.


    Using a variety of techniques in the IBM labs, scientists have established three new records for reducing errors in elementary computations and retaining the integrity of quantum mechanical properties in quantum bits (qubits) – the basic units that carry information within quantum computing. IBM has chosen to employ superconducting qubits, which use established microfabrication techniques developed for silicon technology, providing the potential to one day scale up to and manufacture thousands or millions of qubits.

    IBM researchers will be presenting their latest results today at the annual American Physical Society meeting taking place February 27-March 2, 2012 in Boston, Mass.

    The special properties of qubits will allow quantum computers to work on millions of computations at once, while desktop PCs can typically handle minimal simultaneous computations. For example, a single 250-qubit state contains more bits of information than there are atoms in the universe.

    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 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," says IBM scientist Matthias Steffen, manager of the IBM Research team that's focused on developing quantum computing systems to a point where it can be applied to real-world problems.

    Other potential applications for quantum computing may include searching databases of unstructured information, performing a range of optimization tasks and solving previously unsolvable mathematical problems.

    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". For qubits, they can hold a value of “1” or “0” as well as both values at the same time. Described as superposition, this is what allows quantum computers to perform millions of calculations at once.

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    One of the great challenges for scientists seeking to harness the power of quantum computing is controlling or removing quantum decoherence – the creation of errors in calculations caused by interference from factors such as heat, electromagnetic radiation, and materials defects. To deal with this problem, scientists have been experimenting for years to discover ways of reducing the number of errors and of lengthening the time periods over which the qubits retain their quantum mechanical properties. When this time is sufficiently long, error correction schemes become effective making it possible to perform long and complex calculations.

    There are many viable systems that can potentially lead to a functional quantum computer. IBM is focusing on using superconducting qubits that will allow a more facile transition to scale up and manufacturing.

    IBM has recently been experimenting with a unique “three dimensional” superconducting qubit (3D qubit), an approach that was initiated at Yale University. Among the results, the IBM team has used a 3D qubit to extend 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 enable effective error correction schemes and suggests that scientists can begin to focus on broader engineering aspects for scalability.

    A picture of the Silicon chip housing a total of three qubits. The chip is back-mounted on a PC board and connects to I/O coaxial lines via wire bonds (scale: 8mm x 4mm). A larger assembly of such qubits and resonators are envisioned to be used for a scalable architecture.
    In separate experiments, the group at IBM also demonstrated a more traditional “two-dimensional” qubit (2D qubit) device and implemented a two-qubit logic operation – a controlled-NOT (CNOT) operation, which is a fundamental building block of a larger quantum computing system. Their operation showed a 95 percent success rate, enabled in part due to the long coherence time of nearly 10 microseconds. These numbers are on the cusp of effective error correction schemes and greatly facilitate future multi-qubit experiments.

    The implementation of a practical quantum computer poses tremendous scientific and technological challenges, but all results taken together paint an optimistic picture of rapid progress in that direction.

    Core device technology and performance metrics at IBM have undergone a series of amazing advancements by a factor of 100 to 1,000 times since the middle of 2009, culminating in the recent results that are very close to the minimum requirements for a full-scale quantum computing system as determined by the world-wide research community. In these advances, IBM stresses the importance and value of the ongoing exchange of information and learning with the quantum computing research community as well as direct university and industrial collaborations.

    “The superconducting qubit research led by the IBM team has been progressing in a very focused way on the road to a reliable, scalable quantum computer. The device performance that they have now reported brings them nearly to the tipping point; we can now see the building blocks that will be used to prove that error correction can be effective, and that reliable logical qubits can be realized,” observes David DiVincenzo, professor at the Institute of Quantum Information, Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Juelich.

    Based on this progress, optimism about superconducting qubits and the possibilities for a future quantum computer are rapidly growing. While most of the work in the field to date has focused on improvements in device performance, efforts in the community now must now include systems integration aspects, such as assessing the classical information processing demands for error correction, I/O issues, feasibility, and costs with scaling.

    IBM envisions a practical quantum computing system as including a classical system intimately connected to the quantum computing hardware. Expertise in communications and packaging technology will be essential at and beyond the level presently practiced in the development of today’s most sophisticated digital computers.

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    At the rate things are going we might have a "basic" Quantum computer that can do some "very" basic stuff by 2020! That's just my prediction! That's going to be really cool.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2012
  2. Matthew
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    One step closer to quantum computing
    One step closer to quantum computing

    A silicon chip housing a total of three qubits. Photo: IBM Research

    IBM is jumping into an area of computing that has, until now, been primarily the province of academia: the quest to build a quantum computer.

    A computer that took advantage of the oddities of quantum physics could solve in seconds certain problems that would occupy present-day computers for billions of years.

    But for now, it is impossible to build such a computer because the bits of information it would need for the calculations fall apart before a calculation can be completed. The problem is, in essence, like trying to knit a sweater with yarn that unravels before the first purl.

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    IBM researchers will today present experimental results that they say put them close to solving this problem, both by lengthening the lifetime of the quantum bits of information and by quickening the pace of computation.

    The presentation will take place at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Boston.

    "In the past, people have said, maybe it's 50 years away, it's a dream, maybe it'll happen sometime," said Mark B. Ketchen, manager of the physics of information group at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in Yorktown Heights, New York state. "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."

    Many university researchers have done good work solving the basic science problems, Ketchen said, but "it's going take an IBM in the end to put it together."

    It's still too early for IBM to have a commercial product in mind, but computer scientists are encouraged that the company is paying attention.

    Scott Aaronson, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called IBM's work "a cause for cautious optimism" in the development of quantum computers.

    "It looks very interesting," Aaronson said of the IBM research. "Basically, it's another step in continuing progress."

    While a working quantum computer is still quite a few years away, there have been a number of advances over the past couple of years, and the IBM one is just among the most recent.

    These days, the path to the future now looks more like a series of very hard engineering problems rather than an uphill fight against physics.

    Current computers perform their calculations using 1's and 0's, with each binary digit called a "bit" of information.

    In quantum mechanics, multiple possibilities exist at once, and a quantum bit — qubit, for short — is not necessarily a "1" or a "0" but a combination of both. By stringing together qubits, a quantum computer could perform a multitude of calculations simultaneously.

    For certain problems like searching databases or factoring very large numbers — the basis of today's encryption techniques — quantum computers could produce an answer in days or maybe even seconds, whereas the fastest conventional computer would take longer than 13.7 billion years.

    The IBM researchers are building quantum computer components out of electronic circuits containing superconductors, materials that carry electricity without electrical resistance. When cooled to a hundredth of a degree above absolute zero, the circuits act as qubits.

    The problem is that a qubit becomes scrambled in short order and the information it carries turns into gibberish. When physicists started experiments a little more than a decade ago, a qubit lasted only a few billionths of a second. (An alternate approach, trapping ions in electric and magnetic fields, can produce longer-lived qubits. But the superconducting circuit approach takes advantage of current computer chip technologies.)

    In the latest IBM results, which build on a technique developed by Robert J. Schoelkopf, a physics professor at Yale, a qubit lasted as long as one-10,000th of a second.


    Even though that is still not long enough for perfect calculations, it is almost good enough for error correction algorithms to detect and fix any mistakes.

    "We're just crossing this threshold," Ketchen said, "which is a big morale booster that says, gee, this is becoming doable."


    Read more: One step closer to quantum computing
     
  3. Uncensored2008
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    Uncensored2008 Libertarian Radical Supporting Member

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    Yeah, but can it play Angry Birds?
     

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