In theory, quantum computers will quickly solve problems so complex that today’s best supercomputers would need years to figure out.
In practice, quantum computers haven’t lived up to their promise.
Why? They’re short of qubits.
Conventional computers process bits of information sequentially – one at a time – as a series of digital ones and zeroes.
In contrast, quantum computers are based on qubits, an electronic entity that, thanks to the quirks of quantum physics, can serve as a one and a zero at the same time.
That speeds a computer’s “thought processes” exponentially.
However, early versions of quantum computers have only managed to include a few qubits at a time, in part because of the precise electrical, optical, and magnetic conditions the computer has to maintain to keep qubits stable.
Now a team of researchers from several universities has taken the number of manageable qubits from 51 to 256 in one leap.
Previously, qubits were created by manipulating atoms laid out in a flat sheet one atom thick.
The new arrangement has structured the array of atoms in two dimensions, giving the atoms entirely new ways to interact to create qubits.
TRENDPOST: The number of configurations among qubits that the new architecture makes possible exceeds the number of atoms in the universe, according to the research team.
That number of qubits working together in various combinations to analyze the roots of a disease, design a drug, plot the course of a manned space flight, or solve any kind of knotty problem will produce new materials, better financial market models, previously unimaginable medical treatments, and other breakthroughs across the range of human experience.
By the middle of this century, quantum computers will be on duty in research centers solving challenges researchers can’t begin to plumb today.