Many, though not all, people will probably be familiar with bits and bytes as fundamental unit sizes used in computing, like meters and inches are for size and distance. That, however, is old school computing. The hot new thing in computing, or at least what Intel and Google would want you to believe, is quantum computing and its fundamental unit, qubits. Unlike the bits of old (or today), qubits are still considered a bit (no pun intended) harder to control, especially under different temperatures. Intel and partner QuTech are proudly announcing a breakthrough in technology that would allow qubits, and therefore quantum computing systems, to operate in slightly warmer environments.
Like almost anything in quantum computing, qubits, short for quantum bits, aren’t that easy to pin down, both in definition and quite literally. Unlike the discrete values of 1 and 0 or on and off in bits, qubits can hold both values depending on their state. The nature of qubits, which are practically based on sub-atomic particles like electrons and photons, is what makes quantum computing the future of supercomputers.
They’re also a nightmare to operate, though, mostly because of two factors. One is that qubits only operate at extremely low temperatures. This leads to the second problem, which is having the qubits’ control electronics separate from the qubits themselves because of the extremely frigid temperatures.
That’s where this “hot” qubit breakthrough from Intel comes in. These qubits can operate at temperatures higher than 1 kelvin, roughly -458F/-272C. In comparison, computers in outer space operate at 3 kelvin. In practical terms, this would allow Intel to combine both the quantum hardware and the control circuitry on the same chip.
In the long run, this could lead to more simplified and more efficient chips that connect the two parts without sacrificing fidelity and accuracy. Whether Intel will be able to commercialize such a packaging soon, however, is not even in question yet. For now, quantum computing still remains in the domain of giant corporations that can afford facilities and equipment to operate these futuristic computers while the rest of us wait for their practical benefits.