Quantum and the art of noise

Noise, huh, what’s it good for? Absolutely nothin’. Apart from the geniuses trying to further the advancement of noisy intermediate quantum computing (Nisq), noise means errors. Lowering the error rate in this emerging area of computing requires significantly more physical qubits for every useful logical qubit.

Computer Weekly recently spoke to a number of experts in the field of quantum computing and a picture is emerging of quantum computing, which illustrates the efforts going into making something practical, out of a technology that few truly understand. It promises so much. Imagine being able to solve problems in a way that is simply impossible with existing high performance computing. By being able to simulate chemistry at the quantum level, a quantum computer opens up huge opportunities in material science and a way to control chemical reactions in industrial processes to achieve outcomes such as reducing harmful emissions and waste or improving yield.

Making the most of a noisy environment

One of the new companies trying to make the most of existing tech is Algorithmiq. Its co-founder and CEO Sabrina Maniscalco, believes that full tolerance in quantum computing will require technical advances in manufacturing and may even require fundamental principles to be discovered because, as she says: “The science doesn’t exist yet.” Her company has just received funding to help it develop algorithms for the pharmaceutical sector that can cope with today’s noisy quantum computers.

Many of the labs running quantum computing systems, need to operate at close to absolute zero (-273 degrees celsius) to form superconducting qubits. But this level of cooling is not particularly scalable, so one of the on-going areas of research is how to achieve quantum computing at room temperature. This is the realm of the trapped ion quantum computer, and requires an entirely different approach. Winfried Hensinger, chief scientist at Universal Quantum, a spin out from Sussex University, believes that trapped ion quantum computers are more resilient to noise. He says: “The ion is naturally much better isolated from the environment as it just levitates above a chip.”

Another startup, Quantum Motion, spun out of UCL, is looking at how to industrialise quantum computing by being able to measure the quantum state of a single electron in a silicon transistor. Significantly, this transistor can be manufactured using the same chip fabrication techniques that are used in the manufacture of microprocessors.

These three examples represent a snapshot of the level of ingenuity that is being poured into quantum computer research. A universal quantum computer may be years off, but something usable and scalable is almost within earshot.

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