Currently, the only way to make a quantum computer chip is to cryogenically freeze individual atoms at negative-something-huge-degrees. But that may be about to change soon.
This research could be big, and I don’t say that too often. Scientists at an Australian quantum computing start-up called Diraq have discovered – and published a paper explaining – how to control electron spins via silicon.
If your day to day job is running a school or SMB, the significance of that discovery may not seem momentous yet. But it will be.
Australian start-up finds new way to make quantum computer chips
Here’s the bullet point summary:
- Quantum computers are insanely better for some types of problems – like a calculation that takes a quantum computer seconds take a classical one until the heat death of the universe (note not many problems are that clear cut btw).
- Currently, the only way to make a quantum computer chip is to cryogenically freeze individual atoms at negative-something-huge-degrees.
- The only way quantum chips will be useful is to have lots of qubits on them, which is the quantum version of classical logic gates. Your phone’s chip has a few billion, by the way. Current quantum super-cold chips have, at most, a few hundred. To do even the simplest, useful quantum algorithms needs about 2000 qubits, but we aren’t there yet.
- We, as humans, make so many silicon chips of so many different types, that one could say us humans are really, really good at fabricating things out of silicon. It’s not like a kid making paper chain men with folded paper and scissors, but close to that analogy.
- So when these scientists found a way to manipulate quantum effects, the basis of a quantum computer qubits, and they did it in silicon with electricity instead of magnetism, this is huge.
- What that means is that we could make our regular chip fabrication methods churn out a different type of silicon wafer. And instead of a hundred qubits in cryogenic refrigerators, we can potentially have a billion qubits on silicon that is on your wrist watch.
What’s the potential for quantum computer chips?
Professor Andrew Dzurak, CEO of the company Diraq which developed this technology, commented:
“It builds on our work to make quantum computing in silicon a reality, based on essentially the same semiconductor component technology as existing computer chips, rather than relying on exotic materials,” he added. “Since it is based on the same CMOS technology as today’s computer industry, our approach will make it easier and faster to scale up for commercial production and achieve our goal of fabricating billions of qubits on a single chip.”
So, soon, a cheap wearable device on your clothes could display your cat videos while simultaneously using quantum crypto to bust Shor’s algorithm for finding prime numbers.
Flippancy aside, silicon-based qubits represent a huge discovery
How long for this to happen?
Well, I remember being a kid in the 1990s, reading Scientific American magazine and reading about Field Programmable Gate Array chips (FPGA) that had just been discovered and prototyped. It was guessed that using FPGAs would make pushing code to embedded chips make things run faster.
They were right, and now a quick google of “FPGA uses” shows it’s in many computers, like search engines and other things we don’t realise day-to-day.
And if you can’t do without a search engine now, imagine having a quantum based computer you can’t live without in 20-40 years time.