The Toil Toward Quantum Computers Just Turned Into a Sprint

The New Silicon Chip
The silicon based chip developed by researchers at Bristol University.

A new optical chip that can process photons in a dizzying number of infinite ways has been developed by two research teams. Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in Japan (NTT) are behind the breakthrough in quantum computing.

The means to solve daunting problems such as the ability to design new life-saving drugs; perform advanced calculations that are a step or two beyond even supercomputers; and analyze weather patterns for more accurate forecasting has just received a major boost.

A group of researchers have pulled off a staggering feat; they’ve developed a silicon-based optical chip that is fully reprogrammable and can process photons in every way imaginable and then some, reports

Prof. Jeremy O’Brien, the Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics at Bristol University where researchers masterminded the development of the chip, said:

Over the last decade, we have established an ecosystem for photonic quantum technologies, allowing the best minds in quantum information science to hook up with established research and engineering expertise in the telecommunications industry.

”It’s a model that we need to encourage if we are to realize our vision for a quantum computer,” he added.

The chip has essentially validated a vast array of existing quantum research and experiments. It also opens the doors for future ideas and protocols in quantum mechanics that haven’t even been conceived yet, bringing yet more focus to the staggering potential of quantum computers.

Einstein referred to Quantum mechanics as: “the most successful physical theory of our time.”

Quantum Computers and the Need for It

Quantum computers are advanced, sci-fi standard machines devised and founded on the principles of quantum mechanics. These computers will be far more powerful than the supercomputers of today. Computer science is on the very cusp of a technological milestone if the computers of tomorrow are based on quantum mechanics principles, making for an evolutionary leap in computing technology.

Quantum ComputingSeveral futurologists predict that:

  • The widespread use and implementation of quantum computers in general industry is only a decade or two away.
  • The United States is expected to be the leader in the quantum technology arena, with forecasts predicting China to be the closest competitor.
  • Countries and corporations that gain initial access to quantum computers will have a decisive edge over others in any technological space.
  • The implications of quantum computers in geopolitics and national security will be staggering.

Stepping beyond military and security circles, quantum computers represent advancements in science – the likes of which could lead to saving millions of lives – thanks to faster research and development of new drugs. Rapid strides are expected to be made towards the development of artificial intelligence. While today’s algorithms used in developing algorithms depend on pattern recognition, quantum computing brings the very real plausibility of machines adapting to anomalous scenarios. Non-routine tasks can be undertaken by machines thanks to quantum computing aided advanced algorithms. Self-driven cars are already a reality and the research into automation through quantum computing will push the envelope further.

“Quantum computing could allow scientists to calculate molecular structure, which means they would then be able to control and design molecules, or compute more efficient industrial reaction chains,” said Jonathan Home, a scientist at the Institute for Quantum Mechanics in Switzerland.

But in all likelihood, we’ll use quantum computers for applications we never dreamed of.

With all the potential a quantum computer represents, getting to actually build one is a complicated task. The quantum technology industry is still relatively in its infancy. A major hurdle in testing and understanding new theories for quantum science and computing is the resources and time required to build new experiments suited for the task. Quantum systems and architecture are notoriously fragile, making quantum research appear to be in a constant state of flux with the strides being made.

The Breakthrough Chip

Despite the challenges, the development of the new silicon chip marks a change for experiments with photons and shines the spotlight on the future of quantum technology research.

Dr. Anthony Laing, the leader of the project at the University of Bristol said:

A whole field of research has essentially been put onto a single optical chip that is easily controlled. The implications of the work go beyond the huge resource savings. Now anybody can run their own experiments with photons, much like they operate any other piece of software on a computer. They no longer need to convince a physicist to devote many months of their life to painstakingly build and conduct a new experiment.

The research team were able to ably demonstrate the chip’s unique traits by re-programming it to perform a number of differing experiments. Without the chip, each experiment would have previously taken months to put together and implement.

Team member Jacques Carolan, a student at the University, noted: “Once we wrote the code for each circuit, it took seconds to re-programme the chip, and milliseconds for the chip to switch to the new experiment. We carried out a year’s worth of experiments in a matter of hours. What we’re really excited about is using these chips to discover new science that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Today, the University of Bristol’s ‘Quantum in the Cloud’ service is a pioneering, one-of-a-kind service that allows a quantum processor to be publicly accessible. The research team plans on adding more breakthrough chips like the one they’ve just invented to help others discover and research the world of quantum mechanics on their own.

Images from Bristol University, IBM Research and Shutterstock.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.