Optical quantum computers promise to deliver processing performance exponentially faster and more powerful than today’s computers which use digital electronic chips.
These processor will now be used in quantum computers, which will harness the power and unique qualities of atoms and subatomic particles (Photons) to perform very complex and large memory and processing tasks. Quantum computers have the potential to perform certain calculations significantly faster than any silicon-based computer.
Scientists and writers have described a world where huge amounts of data could be processed in real time with possibilities such as quickly and accurately predicting drug interactions without lengthy clinical trials, creating human-like artificial intelligence and predicting the weather with incredible accuracy.
To even begin making this technology a reality, however, photonic circuitry needed to become at least as efficient at multi-tasking as the microprocessors they are designed to replace. Towards this end, researchers from the University of Bristol and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) have developed a fully-reprogrammable quantum optical chip able to encode and manipulate photons in an infinite number of ways.
Even better, the stable and quickly reprogrammable nature of the chip’s architecture – changeable by means of software code – means that a vast range of existing and yet-to-be-devised quantum experiments may be conducted rapidly in succession, or simultaneously, to help realize what may well be future protocols for medicine, meteorology.
“Once we wrote the code for each circuit, it took just seconds to re-program the chip, and milliseconds for the chip to switch to the new experiment,” said University of Bristol PhD student and research team member, Jacques Carolan. “We carried out a year’s worth of experiments in a matter of hours. What we’re really excited about is using these chips to discover new science that we haven’t even thought of yet … This chip has been fabricated and packaged up, so that we never need to re-align it. It sits there and can perform literally 1000’s of different experiments in a single day – this was simply unthinkable a few years ago.”
The next phases in the quantum chip’s development will be to scale-up its function and capacity, then prove the technology for use in the realms of telecommunication through partnership with NTT and other computer and networking companies.