Quantum computing in our lifetime?
So says IBM who announced a huge breakthrough in tying down the pesky qubits and keeping them in their quantum state a bit longer.
You don't have to know how the thing works. But here's an explanation anyway:
In quantum computing, conventional binary bits are replaced by qubits, which can be 1, 0 or both. However, until now, qubits have been unstable: the pesky things tend to lose their quantum mechanical properties and go incoherent in a fraction of a second.
Big Blue has been experimenting with "three dimensional" superconducting qubits, first examined at Yale University, and has found a way to extend the quantum coherence of the qubits by up to 100 microseconds, two to four times greater than previous records.
It doesn't sound like much time, but the value just slides past the minimum threshold to allow effective error correction in the computations.
Yes, you read that right. A qubit can be both 1 and 0 at the same time - a given in quantum mechanics regarding light which can be both a wave and a particle at the same time. From there on out, I don't pretend to understand the concepts involved, but scientists believe they are on to something.
"In the past, people have said, maybe it's 50 years away, it's a dream, maybe it'll happen sometime," Mark Ketchen, manager of the physics of information group at IBM's Watson Research Centre, told the New York Times. "I used to think it was 50. Now I'm thinking like it's 15 or a little more. It's within reach. It's within our lifetime. It's going to happen."
The speed and complexity of a quantum computer - if one can ever be built - would bring the dream (or nightmare) of artificial intelligence that much closer. And while it is doubtful you will have one sitting on your desktop any time soon, the research and development of such a machine will no doubt change the world as we know it.