Future PCs could run 18 billion, billion times faster

How would you like your computer to run 18 billion, billion times faster?

Aa University of Utah physicist says he has taken the first step towardscreating a quantum computer that can make this feat possible.

Themind boggling increase relies on a quantum bit (qubit) being both abinary one and a binary zero at the same time but in different places.In quantum (sub-atomic) physics, the smallest particles of light andmatter can be in different places at the same time.

Withtoday’s computers an electric bit (binary digit) can be either one(off) or zero (on). This means that with three bits today’s computerscan store only one of the eight possible combinations of 1 and 0. Theeight combinations are: 1-1-1, 0-1-1, 1-0-1, 1-1-0, 0-0-0, 1-0-0, 0-1-0and 0-0-1.

However,a quantum computer could store all eight combinations in three bits.Theoretically, a 3-qubit quantum computer could calculate eight timesfaster than a 3-bit PC. Following the math, a 64-qubit quantum computercould therefore perform calculations 2 to the power of 64 times fasterthan a 64-bit PC — or 18 billion, billion times quicker!

Thephysicist spearheading the quantum computer initiative is ChristophBoehme, assistant professor of physics at the University of Utah. Heread data stored in the form of the magnetic “spins” of a group ofthousands of phosphorus atoms. “We have demonstrated experimentallythat the nuclear spin orientation of phosphorus atoms embedded insilicon can be measured by very subtle electric currents passingthrough the phosphorus atoms,” said Boehme. “We have resolved a majorobstacle for building a particular kind of quantum computer, thephosphorus-and-silicon quantum computer. For this concept, data readoutis the biggest issue, and we have shown a new way to read data.”

Boehme’swork is based on an approach to quantum computing proposed in 1998 byAustralian physicist Bruce Kane in a Nature paper titled “Asilicon-based nuclear spin quantum computer.” In such a computer,silicon – the semiconductor used in digital computer chips – would be”doped” with atoms of phosphorus, and data would be encoded in the”spins” of those atoms’ nuclei. Externally applied electric fieldswould be used to read and process the data stored as “spins.”

Boehme claims it is technically feasible to read the spin of single phosphorus atoms.

He reckons quantumcomputers are many years away though: “If you want to compare thedevelopment of quantum computers with classical computers, we probablywould be just before the discovery of the abacus,” he said. “We arevery early in development.”

Equallyfantastic is Hitachi research showing that a human can control anon-off switch by merely thinking about it. Non-invasive opticaltopography was used to detect changes in the volume of blood in areasof the brain’s pre-frontal cortex as subjects carried out mentalarithmetic or imagined singing a song. Detected changes were used toturn a model railway on or off.

Opticaltopography uses infrared light, which can penetrate to the upper levelsof the brain and be reflected back, to measure changes in blood volumeand hemoglobin concentrations in the brain. It takes just a tenth of asecond to carry out a reading.

Hitachihopes the technique can lead to a capable brain-machine interface forphysically impaired patients. It hopes practical results can result inproducts by 2011 — decades before a quantum computer might be built.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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