Scientists have just taken quantum computing a big leap closer to consumer viability. In a paper published in Science, it was shown that qubits–the atomic particles used in ludicrously fast quantum computers–can be made to retain their “superposed” state–that is, a state of both 1 and 0 or multiple 1’s and 0’s–for 39 minutes at room temperature, instead of the approximately three minutes they could hold out for earlier. In other words, your computers and devices are now that much closer to being tens of thousands of times faster than they currently are with their old-fashioned bit-based processors.
To achieve this unheard-of feat, the Oxford-based scientists used a phosphorous sample as the qubit medium. Using magnetic inputs, they made the phosphorous nuclei spin up, down, and–and this is where the “quantum” part kicks in–both up and down simultaneously. These magnetically programmed nuclei are called qubits, and their both-up-and-down-simultaneously state is called “superposed”. The superposed state has always been the hallmark of quantum computing; it’s the length of time they maintained it for that’s newsworthy.
The superposed state was retained for 39 minutes at room temperature. As this state decays and the qubits return to non-quantum states of up or down (or “1 or 0”–pick your nomenclature), the collective computing power of those qubits can do one calculation per 1/100,00th of a second. That means the computer can do 2 million calculations before the superposed state decays just one percent. Within that time frame, the computer completely blows bit-based computing out of the water. By a factor of tens of thousands.
If this research continues–and it will–then quantum computers will not only be able to do calculations but actually store data in a more-or-less permanent state as memory.
Currently the only quantum computers available for purchase rely on extremely cold temperatures–just above the toasty side of absolute zero, or about 450 degrees Fahrenheit–and they sell for about $10 million apiece. Google and NASA share one made by D-Wave. Lockheed Martin has a custom job.
But one day your Google Glass will have one too, if we’re lucky. Cross your fingers.