Robert Schoelkopf, a Yale University professor, is at the head of a global attempt to build the world’s first quantum computer. Such a machine would use the ostensibly mysterious principles of quantum mechanics to solve problems that modern computers never could.
Three leaders of the tech world – Google, Intel, and IBM, – are using a method created by Mr. Schoelkopf and other physicists as they compete to build a machine that could drastically speed up everything from business intelligence systems to drug discovery.
After their study helped to stimulate the work of so many others, Mr. Schoelkopf and two other Yale professors have started their own quantum computing company, Quantum Circuits.
Their startup has $18 million in funding from the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and others. It is one more sign that quantum computing – for a long time a far-away dream of the world’s computer scientists – is coming closer to reality.
In the last couple of years, it becomes a technology that companies can begin to commercialize. It is apparent to us and others around the world that companies know enough about this that and can build a working system.
Quantum computing systems are hard to understand because they don’t perform like the usual world we live in. But this counterintuitive performance is what allows them to execute calculations at a rate that wouldn’t be achievable on a standard computer.
Modern computers store data as “bits,” with each transistor keeping either a 1 or a 0. But credit to something called the superposition principle – performance exhibited by subatomic particles like photons and electrons. The basic particles of light – a quantum bit, or “qubit,” can store a 1 and a 0 simultaneously. This means two qubits can hold four values at once. As you increase the number of qubits, the mechanism becomes really more powerful.
Todd Holmdahl, who oversees the quantum project at Microsoft, said he envisioned a quantum computer as something that could immediately find its way through a maze. A standard computer will attempt one way and get blocked and then try another and another, but a quantum computer can try all ways together in one go.
The trouble is that storing data in a quantum system for more than a short amount of time is very hard. This short “coherence time” leads to errors in calculations. But Mr. Schoelkopf and other physicists have worked to get to the bottom of this difficulty using what are called superconducting circuits. They have built qubits from materials that show quantum properties when cooled to tremendously low temperatures.
With this technique, they have shown that they can advance coherence times by 10 factor. This is known as Schoelkopf’s Law, the canon that says the number of transistors on computer chips will double every two years. Fun fact is that Schoelkopf’s Law started as a joke, but now scientists widely use it in a lot of research papers.
Quantum computing research
These superconducting circuits have become the main area of quantum computing research across the industry. One of Mr. Schoelkopf’s former students now is leading the IBM quantum computing program. The creator of Rigetti Computing studied with Michel Devoret, one of the other Yale professors behind Quantum Circuits.
Recently, after building a team of top researchers from the University of Santa Barbara and California, Google find out it is on the edge of using this method for building a mechanism that can achieve “quantum supremacy.” It is when a quantum machine do a task that your laptop or any other machine that based on the laws of classical physics can’t do.
Also, other research areas show promise. Microsoft, for example, is making a bet on anyons, special particles. But superconducting circuits seems to be the first systems that will accomplish something.
The scientists believe that quantum machines will ultimately analyze the interactions between physical molecules. Such process isn’t possible today, that’s why it is something that could fundamentally accelerate the development of new medications. Google and others also think that these systems can drastically accelerate Data Science, Data mining, machine learning.
A quantum computer could also know how to break the data encryption and decryption algorithms that protect the most sensitive government and corporate data. With so much value, it isn’t surprising that so many companies are trying to implement this technology, including start-ups like Quantum Circuits.
The majority of influence is stacked not in favor of the smaller players because the top companies have so much more money to spend on the problem. But start-ups have their pros, even in such an expensive and complex area of research. Sometimes, we can observe large teams inside huge companies doing nothing tremendously innovative. But small teams of extraordinary people can do outstanding things.
Even though Quantum Circuits is using the same quantum method as its bigger competitors, Mr. Schoelkopf says that his company has an advantage because it is dealing with the problem in s different way. Instead of building one big quantum machine, they construct a chain of tiny machines that are (can be) networked together. It makes the process of correcting errors in quantum calculations easier, which is one of the main troubles in creating one of these complex machines.
But the thing is that each of the leading companies insists that they have an advantage and each is trumpeting its progress. But the truth is that a working machine is still years away in the future.
The promise of a huge quantum computer is extremely powerful. It will solve problems we can’t even envision right now!