Computing

Quantum computing to become a reality


Johannesburg, 29 Feb 2012
Read time 2min 20sec

New York Stock Exchange-listed IBM says it has made a breakthrough that puts futuristic full-scale quantum computing on the path to becoming a reality.

IBM said yesterday it had achieved “major advances” in the performance of quantum-computing devices, taking it a step closer to making the science-fiction technology a reality.

Quantum computing has the potential to deliver computing power that cannot be matched by any supercomputer currently. Future possible applications include solving previously unsolvable mathematical problems, searching databases of unstructured information and performing a range of optimisation tasks.

The company's advances could give it an edge in owning the future technology behind computing, although it is doubtful that the full benefits of the breakthrough will be seen any time soon.

IBM's researchers presented the results at the annual American Physical Society gathering, currently being held in Boston.

Fast-forward future

IBM says, based on its progress, optimism about superconducting quantum bits (qubits http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qubit) and the possibilities for a future quantum computer are rapidly growing. Qubits differ from bits in that they can be either 0, 1 or both.

“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, who manages the research team focused on developing quantum computing systems.

Qubits will allow quantum computers to work on millions of computations at once, while desktop PCs can usually only handle a few simultaneous computations.

David DiVincenzo, professor at the Institute of Quantum Information, Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Juelich, says the device performance IBM is reporting “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 realised.”

Not so fast

Swift Consulting CEO and tech blogger Liron Segev says IBM is making headway with an “awesome” technology and has made a major early advance.

Segev says the technology behind quantum computing will, in future, replace the silicon chip, memory and processors that run current PCs. He says if IBM can control this aspect and the hardware, it will rule the technology world.

However, Segev says IBM's breakthrough does not practically mean much at this stage of the game. He explains quantum computing will only become a reality many years from now.

“It will be cool stuff later on and the research has to happen now, but I doubt, in our lifetimes, we will see this.”

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