Friday, September 4, 2009

Baby Steps to a Super-Powerful Computer

The first-ever calculation performed on an optical quantum computer chip is not impressive in itself but its proof-of-principle has huge implications for the future of mind-boggling computer power in our lifetime. This is another step toward what Ray Kurzweil calls "the singularity" that will occur in the next 30 or 40 years in which computing power surpasses that of the human brain.

A primitive quantum computer that uses single particles of light (photons) whizzing through a silicon chip has performed its first mathematical calculation. This is the first time a calculation has been performed on a photonic chip and it is major step forward in the quest to realise a super-powerful quantum computer.

The chip just did a simple calculation to find the prime factors of 15, and outputs the answer - 3 and 5 (which could be done much faster by any school kid), but this lies at the heart of modern encryption schemes, including those used for secure internet communication. The ability of quantum computers to simulate quantum systems may also prove to be a powerful tool in the development of new materials or pharmaceuticals.

The team from the University of Bristol’s newly established Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information have spent several years developing devices where photons propagate in silica waveguides — much like in optical fibres — micro-fabricated on a silicon chip.

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