Supercomputers are about to jump to an entirely new level. Quantum computing is evolving fast, and now, two quantum computers faced off for the first time in history.
[Image Source: Ars Electronica via Flickr]
Earlier this year, researchers at Cornell University pitted two quantum computers against each other in an epic virtual battle. The challenge was to perform and solve an algorithm to compare and determine which quantum computer is the most effective. Both computers are state-of-the-art 5-qubit quantum computers which operate on two entirely different platforms.
Despite their differences, the researchers discovered a way to program the computers in such a way that is blind to the operating hardware. The results determined one computer was more reliable, and the other could carry out operations faster.
“For a long time, the devices were so immature that you couldn’t really put two five-qubit gadgets next to each other and perform this kind of comparison,” says Simon Benjamin, a physicist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who is not affiliated with the study. “It’s a sign that this technology is maturing.”
The quantum computer lineup
The two competing computers are made from two entirely different setups, making it especially intriguing for scientists to test which of the two are better. One computer which belongs to the University of Maryland. Its setup relies on a trapped-ion system. In it, five ytterbium ions are held in place by a strong electromagnetic trap. The ions are actuated by lasers to carry out the programmed algorithms.
On the other hand is IBM’s computer with an entirely different configuration. In contrast, IBM’s computer relies on multiple superconducting loops which carry out algorithms using microwave signals. Their computer is also the first one in history to be publically accessible via cloud computing. Its ability to be programmed by online users was the reason the experiment could be carried out.
How quantum computers work
Unlike classical computers, quantum computers rely on qubits instead of the more commonly used bit. Traditional computers use transistors which operate in binary- a system which relies on ones and zeros. Quantum bits (or qubits), can represent one, zero, or both one and zero simultaneously- a property better-known as superposition. Things that exist in superpositions have an equal probability of being in multiple positions at a certain time.
The superposition of a quantum computer does not allow the qubits to be explained by the individual part (on or off), but rather, the system as a whole- what is it doing, where it is doing it, and what it needs to do. This is known as entanglement, where one piece of information directly relies on exactly what another bit is doing at that very instant- unlike classical computers where calculations are carried out in a singular train. More complex calculations can be carried out with this new phenomena to re-imagine what computers can do.
In the tests, the computers could carry out operations with varying success. The algorithms which were carried out were completely blind to the underlying hardware. In this experiment, the ion computer maintained a 77.1 percent success rate. However, IBM’s computer could only operate the same algorithms with 35.1 percent accuracy. The test confirmed the ion computer is more effective more constantly with the given algorithm. However, IBM’s computer can operate faster.
The results were recently published last week on arXiv.
The future of quantum computing
Superpositions are incredibly delicate. Simply observing them can ruin their properties entirety. The biggest challenge at the moment is developing a system which can reliably carry out algorithms with precision.
“If you have enough coherence, it doesn’t matter how long the whole operation of your algorithm might take.”