Quantum computing has incredible potential to revolutionize the way the world interacts with data. However, no one truly knows how long it will take to make the quantum leap and bring the technology into the mainstream.
That’s partially because operating quantum computers is a demanding task. Since it needs to be done at extremely low temperatures, finding new ways to stabilize qubits (the quantum equivalent to binary bits) is essential to realistic quantum computing.
Although it is better known for its consumer devices and software, Microsoft is a key player in the quantum computing world. Digital Trends reports that the company recently made a breakthrough with its Gooseberry control chip. The advancement reportedly allows Microsoft to control thousands of qubits near absolute zero.
The team, led by Microsoft researcher Dr. David Reilly, published its research in the journal Nature earlier this month.
Although the power of quantum computing lies with qubits, there are many other components that need to be considered. The qubits must be kept at temperatures colder than interstellar space, but researchers still need to communicate with them.
This leads to a complex web of wires that are fed into the deep freezers that hold the quantum material. Those wires connect to racks of regular computing hardware in another room that controls the qubits.
Understandably, this limits the number of qubits that can be controlled since threading more wires through the wall of a refrigerator compromises its ability to keep the qubits stable.
Reilly says, “Each qubit needs to be controlled by a bunch of wires that typically run from racks of electronics at room temperature to the qubits at the end of a dilution refrigerator, at 0.01 degrees kelvin, [which is] close to absolute zero.”
“Controlling qubits in this way taps out around 50 or so qubits. It simply doesn’t scale as an approach to controlling thousands of qubits and beyond.”
That’s where Gooseberry comes in. Microsoft’s chip is designed to operate at extremely cold temperatures directly alongside the qubits. This decreases the need for wires and external electronics, in turn allowing the researchers to control more qubits. Since the chip uses very little energy, it can operate alongside the qubits without disrupting them.
Reilley compares running wires to external computing racks to the 1940s while Gooseberry is similar to today’s integrated circuit chips.
“The chip is the most complex electronic system to operate at this temperature. This is the first time a mixed-signal chip with 100,000 transistors has operated at 0.1 kelvin,” he says.
More to Come
Like most developments in the quantum computing world, Gooseberry isn’t an endgame solution. Instead, it represents another step forward that brings us closer to a useful quantum computer.
When that day arrives, the applications will be endless. Fields like chemistry and physics will be able to explore areas that aren’t possible with traditional computing. Meanwhile, the power of the world’s biggest supercomputers will be dwarfed by much smaller quantum systems.
Chips like Gooseberry will be a key part in moving the quantum computing industry forward in the same way that semiconductors have changed the regular computing industry.
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