Keen to tap into the next big advance in computing technology, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is planning to fund a project to develop quantum computers. A quantum computer, still largely a theoretical entity, employs the principles of quantum mechanics to store information in'qubits' instead of the typical'bits' of 1 and 0. Qubits work faster because of the way such circuits are designed, and their promise is that they can do intensive number-crunching tasks much more efficiently than the fastest comparable computers. For instance, to sort a billion numbers, a quantum computer would require 3.5 million fewer steps than a traditional machine, and would find the solution in only 31,623 steps, says a Morgan Stanley analysis last August. Solving other problems, many having to do with computing physics, becomes possible on quantum machines, the authors say, whereas they might never be possible on traditional computers. While the Physics departments at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the Harish Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad, have only forayed into the theoretical aspects of quantum computing, a DST official said that "the time has come to build one."
IBM has announced a milestone in its race against Google and other big tech firms to build a powerful quantum computer. Dario Gil, who leads IBM's quantum computing and artificial intelligence research division, said Friday that the company's scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits. Gil says it's the first time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale. IBM scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits, the first time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale. The heart of modern computing is binary code, which has served computers for decades.
Intel is taking a slow and steady approach to quantum computing. Competitors like Google may be racing to achieve so-called quantum supremacy, in which a quantum computer outperforms an ordinary one. But Intel's James Clarke has bigger ideas. He leads the firm's quantum computing research team, and says it is looking past near-term goals in order to be the first to make a device with a million qubits, or quantum bits – enough to have a real impact on the world.
Microsoft has crazy quantum computing plans. It is building hardware based on a particle that hasn't been discovered, and the company now wants to make super-cool memory for quantum computers. The company is working with Rambus to develop and build prototype computers with memory subsystems that can be cooled at cryogenic temperatures. Cryogenic temperatures typically are below minus 180 degrees Celsius or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit. Quantum computers could eventually replace today's PCs and servers and promise to be significantly faster.
Quantum computing is an increasingly hot area for research and investment, with corporations like IBM, Google, Alibaba, Intel, and Lockheed Martin launching quantum computing projects aimed at bringing the technology -- meant to speed up the process of solving complex equations -- to commercial viability. In tandem with company investments, the European Union, US, and Chinese governments, among others, are also backing projects aimed at building commercial quantum computers. In the US, NASA, the NSA, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are all involved in quantum computing projects. And in August this year, China launched the world's first quantum satellite in the quest for more secure communications. However, there are only a small number of private companies in the industry that have been able to raise over $1M, which suggests that commercial application of quantum computers -- for both hardware and software -- is nascent at this point, despite the hype.