Significant news has recently appeared from the field of information technology. The New York Institute of Computational Research Flatiron attempts to emulate the Fibonacci sequence on a quantum computer through laser pulses. The outcome? The duration of the entanglement between the qubits has extended, two temporal dimensions have been compacted in one and a new phase of matter has been created.
Among lasers colliding ions, quantum overlap, symmetries and temporal dimensions, first let’s take a step backwards.
Since the 1980s, the scientific community has been engaging in the development of quantum computers, even if the development process seems to have become of public interest only recently. The reasons behind the countless researches about it are effectively highlighted by a report published in the journal Nature in June 2021.
Solving a 9000-year mathematical problem in 36 microseconds: that’s, in fact, the power of a quantum computer, demonstrated through the Borealis photon processor by the Canadian Start-up Xanadu. Where does this astonishing computation proficiency come from?
First of all, we need to know that, unlike the traditional one, which uses electronic calculation for data processing, quantum computer exploits the laws of mechanics and quantum physics. As you can guess, different laws require different “raw materials” to be applied to. The basic information unit, the traditional bit (binary digit), encodes the two states of a switch – open or closed – by the values 1 or 0. The equivalent of this is the qubit in quantum computers. The quantum bit, however, is not encoded by the value 1 or value 0, but by the quantum state in which a particle or an atom lies, which we know it can be – thanks to physics – both 1 and 0 at the same time.
De facto, the fundamental consideration is that complex calculations require a lot of processing time; why don’t we run them in parallel, then? Why do we use traditional sequential calculation, while a quantum computer can simultaneously process multiple solutions to a single problem, thanks to parallel calculation?
The only drawback: the coherence of qubit series is highly precarious. Multiple factors – temperature variation, vibrations – can interfere with them, introducing errors and risking making the atom lose its state of overlap, thanks to which it can have values 1 and 0 simultaneously. To maintain this state of coherence, laser pulses in direction of the ions are used, which impose them a specific symmetry, based on time.
And it’s at that point that a sequence whose identification dates back to the Middle Ages has brought back into favour. It comes to the Fibonacci sequence, a series in which each number is the result of the sum of the previous two. It is an ordered, but not repeated sequence and it is to this characteristic that scientists attribute the imposition of two temporal symmetries on the qubits, as a consequence of almost periodic laser pulses. Since the timeline we live in is – as far as we know – unique, the two temporal symmetries “collapse” into one, but the supplementary one added another layer of protection against quantum decoherence, improving the duration time of entanglement, and, consequently, of quantum computer operation.
This type of technology is still so obscure that it is difficult to create a vast media expectation, as it happens, for example, with most other emerging technologies. However, such improvement of entanglement duration is undoubtedly to be taken into account, given the multiple potential applications of quantum computers.
CERN’s stated goal is to exploit quantum algorithms to progress in the search for unknown or partially known entities, such as dark matter. Furthermore, the Large Hadron Collider contained therein allows the acceleration of subatomic particles at speeds approaching the speed of light, generating a quantity of data incompatible with classical computation. The quantum approach may therefore be an inevitable support.
Chemistry and material physics will also benefit. After several attempts with classic models and supercomputers, Mercedes-Benz approaches quantum physics in the study of molecular interactions of batteries in electric cars. Studying these reactions will lead to a better understanding of the dynamics that cause their decay, in order to create more and more efficient and environmentally sustainable products.
Experimentation of new personalized medicines, weather forecast on larger areas in less time and optimized management of urban traffic are just some of the countless other examples.
By 2023, the IBM multinational expects the completion of the 1121 qubit processor, able to maintain the required interaction between qubit for the creation of a full-fledged quantum computer. IBM also looks beyond 2023, by investing in the design of a liquid helium super refrigerator capable of maintaining a quantum computer at 1 million qubits.
We still don’t know when it will be assembled.
By Noemi Manghi