Will Quantum Computing Be the Next Big Breakthrough?

Dear Commons Community,

Over the past few decades, digital technology has been evolving steadily in terms of capacity and speed based on reducing the size of the basic unit of all computers – the binary digit or bit. The bit is an electronic circuit that can be in the off or on state represented by the digits 0 and 1. However, a whole other level of digital circuitry based not on the bit but on the quantum bit or qubit has been explored for a number of years now. The qubit can simultaneously be both off and on representing both zero and one values. If they are placed in an “entangled” state — physically separated but acting as though they are connected — with many other qubits, they can represent a vast number of values simultaneously and thereby greatly expanding the capabilities of digital technology. The New York Times has an article today describing Microsoft’s research and investment in quantum computing. Here is an excerpt:

“…a group of physicists and computer scientists who are funded by Microsoft are trying to take the analogy of interwoven threads to what some believe will be the next great leap in computing, so-called quantum computing.

If they are right, their research could lead to the design of computers that are far more powerful than today’s supercomputers and could solve problems in fields as diverse as chemistry, material science, artificial intelligence, and code-breaking.

They met here this weekend to explore an approach to quantum computing that is based on “braiding” exotic particles known as anyons — what physicists describe as “quasiparticles” that exist in just two dimensions rather than three — in order to form the building blocks of a supercomputer that exploits the weird physical properties of subatomic particles.

The proposed Microsoft computer is mind-bending even by the standards of the mostly hypothetical world of quantum computing…And the existing limitations of computing power are thrown out the window…

…In the approach that Microsoft is pursuing, which is described as “topological quantum computing,” precisely controlling the motions of pairs of subatomic particles as they wind around one another would manipulate entangled quantum bits. Although the process of braiding particles takes place at subatomic scales, it is evocative of the motions of a weaver overlapping threads to create a pattern.

By weaving the particles around one another, topological quantum computers would generate imaginary threads whose knots and twists would create a powerful computing system. Most important, the mathematics of their motions would correct errors that have so far proved to be the most daunting challenge facing quantum computer designers.”

Several other major companies such as IBM and Lockheed-Martin have also been exploring the feasibility of quantum computing. It is quite possible in the next decade or so, we may see the fruits of this research.


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