May 7, 2012
Expert Predicts Quantum Computing Technology Could Be Near
A prominent theoretical physicist and the co-author of a book on quantum mechanics believes that research in the field of quantum computing is rapidly progressing, and that the technology is inching ever closer to becoming a reality.
In a column written for the Guardian on Saturday, Jeff Forshaw, co-author of the 2011 book 'The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen' and a professor at the University of Manchester, said, "Quantum simulations have, in the past year, really taken off."
"The ability to delicately manipulate and measure systems containing just a few atoms is a requirement of any attempt at quantum simulation and it is thanks to recent technical advances that this is now becoming possible," he added.
To illustrate his point, he references a paper published last week in the journal Nature, in which a team of American, Australian, and South African scientists joined forces in order to create a device that can simulate a specific type of magnetism -- a type of magnetism that he says will appeal to those working in the field of high-temperature superconductivity.
The simulator they're working on is a tiny pancake-like layer formed from 300 beryllium atoms that is less than 1 millimeter in diameter and, according to Forshaw, "paves the way for future studies into quantum magnetism that will be impossible using a classical computer."
"It is one thing to build a dedicated simulator, aimed at tackling one particular scientific problem, but we can be more ambitious and try to build a general purpose computer that exploits quantum physics to perform a variety of otherwise impossible tasks. Simulating physical systems would be just one task suited to such a computer. We can liken that to what is done in computing today -- modern computers don't just run simulations for scientists," he wrote.
This notion of an all-purpose quantum computer was pioneered by Oxford University professor David Deutsch, who in 1985 became the first individual to formulate a description for a quantum Turing machine (QTM), an abstract machine which is used to model the effect of a universal quantum computing device. In the nearly three-decades since then, Forshaw said, experts around the world are racing in order to develop the best QTM -- and he suggests that they may be closer to doing so than most people realize.
"This is a field of research where progress is very rapid -- important developments are a weekly occurrence -- and right now the challenge is to build systems that can manipulate a handful of qubits without destroying their essential quantum nature," Forshaw said. "It is probably too soon to speculate on when the first full-scale quantum computer will be built but recent progress indicates that there is every reason to be optimistic."