A universal quantum computer is taking shape in the UK

Universal supercomputer to solve every problem moves a step closer

Image credit: University of Sussex

A universal quantum computer 100,000 times faster than current state-of-the-art technology that could solve some of the most complex problems facing mankind is slowly taking shape as an international team of scientists publishes an innovative blueprint.

The supercomputer, akin to the Deep Thought machine featured in the famous ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, would connect individual quantum computing modules through an electric field, enabling data processing at an unprecedented speed. Previously, scientists expected charged atoms in quantum computers to travel through fibre-optic links. 

“For many years, people said that it was completely impossible to construct an actual quantum computer,” said Professor Winfried Hensinger, head of the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex, who works on the project.

“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.”

The machine would take up a whole building, consisting of complex vacuum technology with integrated quantum computing silicon microchips containing the charged atoms within electric fields.

The computer would be more powerful than any computing machine ever built on Earth. It would be able to perform enormously complex calculations in a fraction of the time needed by other computers.

It would give a massive boost to all sorts of areas of science including pharmaceutical research and the question of the origins of the Universe and life.

“The availability of a universal quantum computer may have a fundamental impact on society as a whole,” Professor Hensinger said. “Without doubt it is still challenging to build a large-scale machine, but now is the time to translate academic excellence into actual application building on the UK’s strengths in this ground-breaking technology.”

An early proof-of-concept prototype could be up and running in as little as two years at Sussex University, with the support of the government.

“It was most important to us to highlight the substantial technical challenges as well as to provide practical engineering solutions,” said Bjoern Lekitsch, lead author of the paper describing the technology, which has been published in the journal Science Advances.

The Sussex team cooperated on the project with teams from Google, Aarhus University in Denmark, Japanese research institute RIKEN and Germany’s Siegen University.

Previously, the Sussex University researchers developed technology that would allow replacement of complex laser equipment required for quantum computing operations with the simple application of voltages to a microchip.

The researchers are confident that once up and running, the machine would be far more useful than the fictional Deep Thought, whose only answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything was 42.

The ability of particles to be in multiple quantum states at the same time is behind the promising ability of supercomputers to perform calculations at unprecedented speeds.

While a classical computer has ‘bits’ made up of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has ‘qubits’ that can take on the value of zero or one or both simultaneously.

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