The development that quantum computing has experienced over the last decade is staggering. This discipline is no longer only attractive to research centers linked to some of the most prestigious universities on the planet; the governments of the United States, China, Germany, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Canada or Russia are some of those that have openly declared the strategic character What does quantum computing have for them?
However, much of the greatest progress we are witnessing has come from private enterprise. Google, Intel, Honeywell or IBM are some of the companies that are bidding for make innovations possible demanded by the challenges that this computing paradigm has placed before us.
Experts agree that much remains to be done, but the two biggest challenges that need to be overcome to make fully functional quantum computers possible are the implementation of an error correction system that ensures that the results that we read are correct, and also the scaling of the number of qubits. In fact, both challenges go hand in hand.
As Ignacio Cirac, one of the founding fathers of quantum computing, explained to us during the conversation we had with him in June 2021, “to address symbolic problems we will need to have several million qubits. Probably even hundreds of millions of qubits. Right now we are talking about a hundred qubits, so there is a long way to go. There are people who say that perhaps with 100,000 qubits a specific problem can be solved, but really a lot of qubits are needed».
In mid-November 2021, IBM introduced Eagle, a 127-qubit quantum processor considered the most advanced hardware of its kind currently available. The itinerary of this company foresees that during 2022 Osprey will arrive, a quantum chip of 433 cubits, and in 2023 Condor will be ready, of 1121 qubits. However, the most impressive promise has not been made to us by IBM; It comes from the Canadian company Xanadu Quantum Technologies, which is the same company that this week announced (and demonstrated) that it had achieved quantum supremacy with its Borealis photonic processor.
One million qubits and error correction before 2030
Xanadu’s career began in 2016, but what has placed this young company at the center of the debate has been the publication this week of an article in Nature in which Jonathan Lavoie, its chief scientist, and his team explain how they have achieved quantum supremacy using a programmable photonic quantum processor which they have baptized as Borealis and which is capable of operating at room temperature.
Lavoie’s team has managed to solve a problem in 36 microseconds in which a classical supercomputer equipped with the best available algorithm would spend 9,000 years
As we explained to you in the article that we dedicated to this milestone two days ago, Lavoie’s team has managed to solve as little as 36 microseconds a problem in which, according to these scientists, a classical supercomputer equipped with the best available algorithm would spend 9,000 years. However, this is not all.
In addition, these researchers claim that their technology has allowed them to minimize the imperfections of their hardware and achieve a computational advantage at runtime. 50 million times higher to which they have thrown other computers that also use photonic quantum processors.
Everything they explain in their article in Nature is very promising, but there is no doubt that the most surprising thing is the objective that guides the steps of Lavoie and his team: to have a quantum computer ready before the end of this decade. one million qubits endowed with the ability to amend his own mistakes. There is nothing.
As Ignacio Cirac explained to us, a quantum hardware of these characteristics would probably allow us to solve some symbolic problems and would place us much closer to fully functional quantum computers.
One of the biggest trump cards for the Xanadu science team is that their photonic quantum processor can be made using the same photolithographic technology used in the production of the chips that reside inside our computers and smartphones, opening wide the door to their mass production.
If all goes as planned, nothing will stop them from continuing to scale their quantum hardware beyond a million qubits.
However, the most interesting thing is the strategy that the team led by Lavoie has devised to make it possible to scale its quantum hardware until it is capable of bringing together, according to these technicians, one million qubits. What it pursues is, broadly speaking, to interconnect its quantum processors using a fiber optic network so that they can exchange quantum information and face the same problem in a coordinated way.
The most obvious advantage this approach brings to the table is that if all goes as the Xanadu researchers envision, nothing will stop them from continuing to scale their quantum hardware. beyond the million qubits.
If this milestone is reached, we can be reasonably sure that fully functional quantum computers will be waiting just around the corner. In the meantime we will have to make do with observing how quantum computer prototypes that we currently have continue to improve at a rate that only a few years ago would have seemed unaffordable.
Cover image: Xanadu