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Quantum computing will allow unique solutions to problems via quantum superposition -- the potential for a set of bits to exist in multiple states at once. Quantum algorithms could crack eventually crack even the best "unbreakable" current cryptography with ease.  (Source: UIUC Physics Department)

A Yale team has released the first quantum computer chip to be reported in peer-reviewed literature. The new chip uses aluminum atoms, silicon, and quantum interconnects. It has only 2 qubits. A Canadian company has also laid claim to the title of the world's first quantum processor, but its work has not been peer reviewed.  (Source: Blake Johnson/Yale University)
Does Yale have the world's first solid state quantum processor on their hands?

Quantum computing has the potential to easily crack current cryptography systems, simulate chemical and nanochemical quantum systems, and speed up the search for solutions of certain types of math problems called NP Complete problems.  Many have raced to create the world's first quantum processor.

In 2007 D-Wave, a Canadian firm, claimed to have created the world's first quantum computing chip.  Debate about whether the chip is a true quantum computer has raged, while the company has continued to release claims of improved "quantum chips" -- with the latest being a 128 qubit chip.  Researchers, though, are skeptical of these claims.

Now, researchers at Yale University claim that they have created the world's first solid state quantum processor.  The new chip, at the very least is the first processor to be officially reported in a peer-reviewed journal.  The research appears in the journal Nature's June 28 advanced publication listing.

The chip is composed of 2 qubits ("quantum bits").  Each qubit is composed of billions of aluminum atoms.  Qubits are different than traditional bits, in that while they can hold a value of one or zero, they can also hold a superposition of both states.  Essentially, this means that the two qubit chip can hold 4 simultaneous states, while a 2 bit chip could only hold 1 state (with four possibilities). 

Thus the use of qubits enables multiple tests with a single value.  For example if you had four phone numbers and one belonged to your friend a traditional processor would typically require a call to a couple of numbers before the correct one was found.  According to Yale Professor of Applied Physics and Physics Robert Schoelkopf, "Instead of having to place a phone call to one number, then another number, you use quantum mechanics to speed up the process.  It's like being able to place one phone call that simultaneously tests all four numbers, but only goes through to the right one."

The researchers used the new chip to run elementary algorithms, such as a simple search, based on this concept.  States Professor Schoelkopf, "Our processor can perform only a few very simple quantum tasks, which have been demonstrated before with single nuclei, atoms and photons.  But this is the first time they've been possible in an all-electronic device that looks and feels much more like a regular microprocessor."

The qubit processor communicates via a "quantum bus" which sends signals by photons.  The key breakthrough that allowed the creation of the chip, according to the team, was the ability to fix atoms in a specific quantum state for longer.  When qubits were first manipulated a decade ago, they would only last up to a nanosecond -- the Yale team got them to last for a microsecond, long enough for computing purposes.

The Yale researchers look forward to prolonging the states even further, to allow more complex algorithms. They also hope to add more qubits to their design.  The team writes that scientists are "far away" from a practical quantum computer, still, though.  And in laying claim to the world's "first" quantum computer chip, they're essentially throwing down the gauntlet with D-Wave, effectively accusing them of peddling snake oil to the corporate world.

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I don't understand this technology...
By Fox5 on 6/29/2009 1:10:27 PM , Rating: 1
Why would you want a computer to return multiple possible answers? Wouldn't indeterminacy make it nearly impossible to implement Boolean logic?

By amanojaku on 6/29/2009 1:22:44 PM , Rating: 3
Maybe, maybe not. The logic could be designed to support multiple answers, or provide a way to filter out what's incorrect. Remember that this is being done in hardware, so it's possible this will be abstracted from programmers. Anyway, some applications could benefit from having multiple answers returned, particularly if those answers are similar. Think video applications like color or compression codecs or fundamental particle simulations.

By Mitch101 on 6/29/2009 1:48:15 PM , Rating: 5
Thus the Fembot is born. ;)

RE: I don't understand this technology...
By psychah on 6/29/2009 2:01:07 PM , Rating: 5
I'll have a go at explaining it without dumbing it down. See if it makes any sense :S

It won't return multiple answers. It will test multiple possibilities at the same time, but only return one. From our macroscopic view it would seem that the quantum processor "already knew" which answer was correct before the test.

This is due to superposition in quantum mechanics. Schrödinger's cat is both dead and alive before you check, but after you check the cat is either dead or alive. You check which is true by opening the box, ie a single action, but in the quantum world possibilities don't have to be mutually exclusive in order to rule out all but one (the wave-function collapses, in quantum-lingo).

As a practical example, it seems plants use a form of biological quantum computer for energy transfer within the chloroplast. Here the computation solves the problem "which is the most efficient route", and the side-effect of that computation performs the transfer of energy, but this happens all at once. They aren't separate operations.

By Smartless on 6/29/2009 2:46:59 PM , Rating: 3
Though you were courteous I still felt like you were Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.

By Yaron on 6/29/2009 5:53:42 PM , Rating: 3
Fascinating explanation psychah. Thanks.

You know, it brings me to the old saying "Think positive". By utilizing the plant example you gave, a good thing happens from the mere positive thought you have...

*Thinking positive about a billion US$ in my bank account*

By Motoman on 6/29/2009 8:48:57 PM , Rating: 3
Schrödinger's cat is both dead and alive before you check, but after you check the cat is either dead or alive.

...unless it's an undead vampire kitty. Which naturally follows every "meow" with a "bleh" and wears a little cape and flies. So there are 3 possibilities.

By superPC on 6/29/2009 9:48:30 PM , Rating: 2
Fascinating Mr Spock

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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