We are living in an era when the achievements of computer science are taken for granted, the benefits of computing seem to be countless and computers’ abilities are considered as unlimited. But they are not. In fact, there are problems whose size and complexity mean they cannot be solved by using the technologies which are available today because of the lack of sufficient computational power. For some time now, it has been evident that a new kind of computing is needed to address such challenges.
Much more capable computers based on quantum technology could lead to revolutionary developments in many areas. For now, using such computers on a massive scale may seem unfeasible, but according to Nir Yahav, New Growth Program Manager, Quantum Technology Business Development, at Applied Materials, this will change sooner than we think. “Thanks to decades-long research and recent breakthroughs, quantum technology may be realized within the next ten years,” he argued.
Google last October officially announced it had achieved “quantum supremacy.” The company’s 54-qubit Sycamore processor reportedly needed only 200 seconds to perform an extremely complex calculation that would have taken the world’s most powerful conventional computer 10,000 years to complete. While some in the research community has been skeptical about Google’s claim, others have welcomed the achievement and even likened it to the breakthrough in aviation achieved by the Wright brothers in their first plane flight in 1903.
The idea of quantum computing, which uses quantum-mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computation, dates back to the early 1980s and has been increasingly experimented within recent years. The goal of demonstrating quantum supremacy – that is a quantum device’s ability to solve problems that classical computers cannot solve – and quantum advantage – that is a quantum device’s ability to solve problems faster than classical computers – have been on scientists’ minds right from the beginning.
However, most researchers have until now believed quantum computing for solving real-time industry challenges will not be possible any time soon. Does the Google experiment make a difference? Arguably, it does. Even if it may yet take years for quantum computers to start being used for practical tasks, it shows that such computers will bring a whole range of new possibilities. Indeed, as Yahav noted, companies, government agencies, and research organizations from around the world are already spending billions of dollars on scaling quantum technology and putting it to commercial use.
Admittedly, a number of practical technical problems remain. In the opinion of Yahav, who is leading the effort of exploring quantum computing at Applied Materials, as with any disruptive technology the speed at which quantum can move from “lab to fab” will depend on the ability of the quantum ecosystem to work together to address key technological challenges. The quantum technology will be used in a number of fields, but only the future will unveil if its application could be extended to daily use computers.
Today, quantum computers are prone to errors as they are very sensitive to defects in the underlying materials and such defects are highly challenging to control. Such interactions between Qubits (Quantum bits) and defects cause Quantum Decoherence – that is the loss of the quantum behavior of a quantum system (and, in consequence, the loss of information) and this is one of the biggest challenges in quantum computing. Advancements in materials engineering could in the future help address the problem.
The error rate is directly related to material quality and new technologies used in the semiconductor manufacturing industry could potentially help improve the quantum computing industry to scale, Yahav said. “To realize a quantum future, we will need collaboration between materials companies, equipment companies, and device companies, as well as academics and government institutes,” Yahav stressed. “Materials engineering can play a critical role in helping push quantum technology into real commercialization,” he added.