Werner Heisenberg, a theoretical physicist and a pioneer of quantum mechanics, once said: 'Quantum theory provides us with a striking illustration of the fact that we can fully understand a connection, though, we can only speak of it in images and parables.' Today, scientists are getting closer to solving the mystery of quantum mechanics and, soon, quantum computers may reach a stage of mass production.
The idea of quantum computing is revolutionary because it is capable of replacing conventional computers that are based on the binary number system. Rather than storing information as 0s and 1s, a quantum computer uses 'qubits', (the quantum analog of the bit) which can be a 1, or 0, or both at the same time - a process called quantum superposition. This allows computers to consider and manipulate all combinations of bits simultaneously, making technology incredibly fast and powerful. According to the findings published in the Nature Communications journal, the superposition is very delicate, but scientists discovered that silicon can provide a clean and safe environment for the phosphorus atoms trapped inside, where the quantum information is stored.
The Australian National Fabrication Facility, University of New South Wales introduced 'logic gate', an approach that allows building a quantum chip using silicon. Logic gates are essentially building blocks of the computer circuits that allow calculations to be made by logically controlled 'switches'. It acts like a doorman at a party with a strict dress code, who is instructed to let people in, only if they obey certain rules. One type of the logic gate enforces the electronic equivalent of such rule, for instance, everyone in a group must wear a bow-tie. If a doorman spots that only 1 of 2 people is wearing a tie, neither will be permitted entry. The chip ensures that 'qubits' exist at multiple states, rather than one of two states as presented in traditional computing.
It is not only the speed of the quantum computer that is attractive. It will be possible to find solutions that are far beyond the reach of the most powerful computers we know today. A Canadian company, D-Wave, claims it was the first to introduce a fully functional quantum computer that can be commercially produced. In 2011, it announced D-Wave One, a computer that operates a 128-qubit chipset. Two years later, Google and NASA launched Quantum Computing AI Lab to test quantum computing capabilities, using D-Wave Two that has evolved to 512-qubit operation. According to MIT technology review, Google wants to use quantum technology to improve its Web search and speech recognition technology, whereas NASA believes that supercomputers will help to model space weather, simulate planetary atmospheres and analyze large amounts of mission data.
D-Wave's achievements have many critics, who have doubts about those computers truly using the quantum approach. And yet, D-Wave can offer radical changes to the world. In politics, for example, the technology will help to process large amounts of data, such as marketing information, to best exploit individual voter preferences. An ability to find multiple solutions at the same time may help to determine the development of diseases such as cancer. Also, by analyzing more DNA-sequencing data, it will take less time and effort to design superior-drug treatments. The advantages are countless, and the fact that this future is fast-approaching is both intimidating and exciting at the same time.