Scientists at IBM have recently have made big gains in quantum computer device performance, which may speed up the realization of a practical, full-scale quantum computer, according to a press release on the matter. A quantum computer makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena to perform operations on data, and could be able to solve specific problems much faster than any traditional, transistor-based computer. IBM has been able to achieve three new records in the reduction of elementary computational errors, and in maintaining quantum mechanical integrity in quantum bits (qubits), the basic units of data in quantum computing. IBM will be presenting their findings at the American Physical Society meeting on March 27th in Boston.
Quantum computers can process millions of tasks at once, while a desktop PC can typically handle a few - to get a better idea, one 250-qubit state contains more bits of data than there are atoms in the entire universe. This sort of processing power could be good for combing through unstructured data, data encryption and solving previously unsolvable mathematical quandaries. Matthias Steffen, manager of the IBM Research team developing practical quantum computing, states "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."
The problem with quantum computing has been errors in computation. A classical computer understands data as bits, which can either have a values of 1 or 0. Qubits on the other hand, can have a value of 1, 0 or both simultaneously, which is known as superposition, and allows quantum computers to conduct millions of calculations at once. But there are errors, known as quantum decoherence, caused by things like heat, electromagnetic radiation, and defective materials. Scientists have been trying to figure out how to lengthen the amount of time qubits remain stable, which would reduce the number of these errors. IBM was recently able to keep a qubit in a coherent quantum state for 100 milliseconds, the new record.