In this month’s Wired there is a great article about quantum computing. For years now, I have yearned for computer makers to ditch the x86 architecture and start fresh without all that baggage. I never thought of such a change in architecture as anything more than a new kind of processing with the same types of parts. Mostly silicone, metal, plastics, and the like.

In the field of quantum computing the materials that are to be used are still way up in the air. But one of the most interesting methods of constructing such a computer is “…a system of electrons floating on the surface of superfluid helium at very low temperatures.” These electrons called quantum bits or qubits, in their lowest energy state represent 0 and in their first excited state represents 1. The system is cooled down to .01 Kelvin, where helium is the only substance that remains liquid.

Computers like this can do some very powerful computations with amazing results. The example they gave in the article was that if they could create an array of 333 of these electron size qubits they could perform simultaneous operations on every number between 1 and a googol (10^{100} which is a number considerably larger than the number of atoms in the universe). For today’s fastest supercomputers it would take several quadrillion years to do simple computations on the same range of numbers. Wow! How do they do this? In part it is due to the fact that a qubit doesn’t need to choose between 0 and 1; it can be both at once.

Homework:

– Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, IBM NMR Quantum Computation Project

– Center for Quantum Computation

– Quantum Computation/Cryptography at Los Alamos

– A Hitchhikers Guide to Quantum Computing

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