|23 Oct 2001 @ 03:27, by sindy|
IBM unveils a five-atom quantum computer.
If you thought that quantum computers belonged in the same realm as unicorns and free gas, think again.
Big Blue (aka IBM), the University of Calgary and Stanford University have developed the world's most advanced quantum computer. Utilizing five atoms as its processor and memory, the experimental machine has great potential usage in such fields as cryptography, generating the monetary interest of the US National Security Administration and the Department of Defence.
Silicon-based computers, the garden variety you and I have on our desktops, rely on transistors to relay either 1s or 0s--the language of binary--through being on or off. IBM's quantum computer, conversely, uses the spin of five fluorine atoms to count 1s and 0s--spinning up denotes 1 and down, 0. Due to the unique nature of quantum particles to be in a state of "superposition", that is, the state of spinning in multiple directions simultaneously when unobserved, these atoms are capable of relaying both 1 and 0 simultaneously. Quantum mechanics notes that when an atom is observed, the act alone will affect the behavior of the atom.
Boggles the brain, it does...
But it was through this concept that quantum computers were conceived. The obvious advantage of quantum computers is their ability to process exponentially faster than conventional computers, since they can add all the numbers at the same time instead of in linear order.
IBM's announcement of the quantum computer comes at a suitable time. Twenty five years ago, Intel's cofounder Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors on a microprocessor would double every eighteen years. Moore's Law, as the axiom is known, has proved to be remarkably accurate--too accurate in fact. By the year 2020, transistors would need to be the size of atoms to fit onto a microprocessor. Faced with this potenial barrier, researchers have been scrambling to discover feasible alternatives to producing microchips the size of molecules, which is impossible.
While the use of five atoms is still preliminary, IBM hopes to develop a quantum computer using seven to ten atoms in tandem within the next two years. When tested by Isaac Chuang and his research team, the current quantum computer was able to calculate the period of a function in one CPU cycle, as opposed to repeated cycles. It can be speculated that a quantum computer using several hundred atoms in tandem would be able to perform billions of calculations simultaneously, making obsolete tedious cryptographic calculations and other types of calculations that require complex algorithms, such as searches.
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