IBM just brought us a step closer to quantum computers

One of the biggest things holding us back from developing superfast quantum computers is that they’re incredibly fragile. The slightest disturbance can cause an error.

Now scientists at IBM have figured out a way to detect both types of errors quantum computers can make, and they have created a new prototype design that they say can be easily scaled up to make bigger computers, according to research published April 29 in Nature Communications.

This step forward is a big deal because quantum computing technology has the potential to revolutionise industries.

The big advantage of quantum computers is that they can handle way more information than regular computers and handle it faster. Someday quantum computers could solve a problem in a few minutes that would take a regular computer years solve.

Regular computers are so much slower because the bits they use can only represent information as a 0 or a 1. Quantum computers use qubits that can represent information as a 0, 1, or both at the same time — which is written as 0+1. The problem with qubits though is they sometimes flip without warning. They can suddenly flip from 0 to a 1 (that’s called a bit flip), or they can flip from 0+1 to 0-1 (that’s called a phase flip). The flipping creates all kinds of errors in a quantum computer.

In their latest study, IBM claims they have figured out a way to detect both types of flips. The company built a four-qubit lattice where two of the qubits act like sentries and monitor the other two qubits for errors. The lattice sits on top of a silicon chip that’s about one-quarter of an inch wide:

Google worked out a way todetect bit flipsearlier this year with a line of nine linked qubits. But IBM’s square-shaped prototype can look for both types of errors at the same time,Jerry Chow, Manager of Experimental Quantum Computing at IBM, told Business Insider.

Detecting both types of flips is critical if we ever want working, error-free quantum computers.

IBM’s new design is also scalable. The only problem is working out how to manufacture silicon chips full of qubits on a mass scale, Chow said. That’s going to require a lot more material science study.

Once we figure that out though, IBM scientists say there shouldn’t be a problem using the same kind of error spotting technique in larger lattices.

This kind of tech has the potential to change entire industries in the future, but for now we should focus on figuring out what we can do with small quantum computers, Chow said.

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