Quantum computing is back in the news – this time courtesy of a research team that has published a blueprint for what they are calling “the most powerful computer on Earth.” According to the press release issued on Wednesday, a quantum computer based on this blueprint can be built with currently available technologies and would have nearly unlimited computational power.
The announcement sums up the signficance of the new design thusly:
“Once built, the computer’s capabilities mean it would have the potential to answer many questions in science; create new, lifesaving medicines; solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems; unravel the yet unknown mysteries of the furthest reaches of deepest space; and solve some problems that an ordinary computer would take billions of years to compute.”
Source: Ion Quantum Technology Group, University of Sussex
The blueprint was devised by international team made up of scientists from the Europe, North America, and Asia. Professor Winfried Hensinger, head of the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex is leading the effort. “For many years, people said that it was completely impossible to construct an actual quantum computer,” he said. “With our work we have not only shown that it can be done but now we are delivering a nuts and bolts construction plan to build an actual large-scale machine.” In addition to the University of Sussex, other participating organizations include Google, Aarhus University, RIKEN and Siegen University.
Details of design are described in a paper published in the journal Science Advances, and is freely accessible to other researchers and the public at large. According to the technical write-up, the premise is to employ trapped-ion qubits that can be coupled via microwave radiation. Lasers are used to read the state of the qubits, as well as to load and shuttle the ions. Modules of these computing structure can be assembled using conventional silicon fabrication technology, such that an arbitrarily large quantum computer can be constructed. In fact, the designers say it could be as large as a football field, but the more practical implementation is to fill a large building.
Although each module could be used as a standalone quantum computer, the real utility of the design is to use many of them to build a much more capable system, in the same manner that a conventional supercomputer is made powerful be aggregating thousands of server nodes. Although quantum computing systems have been devised using a variety of technologies, scaling these designs up to more practical size has been a major challenge.
D-Wave recently launched its 2000-qubit supercomputer, but that platform operates as a quantum annealing system, which restricts the “quantumness” of the computation to a narrower set of use cases. The system described here is meant to be used for a universal quantum computer.
Power draw per quantum computing module is estimated to be on the order of 1,000 watts, with excess heat dissipated via a microchannel cooling system. However, the design does not rely on superconductivity that requires temperatures near absolute zero, as in the D-Wave design; the hardware is meant to be run at normal room temperature.
According to the press release, the next step for the design team will be to construct a prototype based on the blueprint.