When computers are powered by quantum physics
Dr. Barak Dayan aims to develop computers that are light-years ahead of today’s. For that, he needs to exploit one of the weirder facts of nature – quantum superposition, in which an object can be in several places at once.
What will the next generation of computers look like?
Computers are getting faster and better every day – but they are still basically a bunch of transistors, electronic switches that encode the basic computing bits – ones and zeros.
All computing – from sharing a photo on Facebook to launching a space mission – is made up large numbers of bits.
To develop computers that are light-years ahead of today’s, scientists have for years been trying to exploit one of the weirder facts of nature – quantum superposition, in which an object can be in several places at once.
Deciphering certain codes might take a regular computer thousands of years. But a quantum computer that could conduct millions of computations in parallel could crack the same code in under a minute.
Today, computers are based on charged electrons, which interact with each other and easily lose their superposition state.
Scientists think that quantum computers will use photons, light particles that do not interact with one another so they can maintain superposition much more easily.
Weizmann Institute scientists have succeeded, for the first time, to build a transistor that switches and guides photons instead of electrons – a photonic router.
To control the photons’ movement, the scientists trapped a single atom with lasers, sending it photons with a special, minute optical resonator.
The resonator holds the photons for a millionth of a second, forcing them to interact with the atom.
The photons flip the state of the atom like a switch, sending the next photon in line either left or right. This creates a quantum router for photons that is also controlled by the photons themselves.
This research is another step forward toward quantum computing technology, in which computation will be carried out by light instead of electricity. A long road is still ahead, but we are already on our way…