Intel recently invested $50 million into researching the next generation of computing — the fabled quantum computer.
Quantum bits (qubits) can have several values simultaneously
The computer you’re using to read these words uses processor technology based around a binary system of computation, where data is encoded into bits (either a one or a zero). Thanks to Moore’s Law, we have dramatically increased the number-crunching power of these binary processors since the first Intel CPUs were introduced back in 1971.
But the technology has its limits. Shrinking processor sizes, while increasing performance, poses a huge challenge. Fortunately, another route is available in the form of quantum-based systems.
Unlike binary systems, which have two possible states, quantum bits (aka qubits) can have several values at the same time allowing for a large number of parallel calculations. This means that a quantum computer should be able to solve complex mathematical problems far quicker than a traditional PC. However, the fact that the technology is so complex means that research in the field is difficult.
But it’s not a case of if quantum computing becomes a reality, but when. It’s why Intel has invested $50 million in a partnership with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands (TUDelft), its quantum research institute (QuTech) and TNO, a Dutch company that specializes in quantum computing.
When will a quantum computer be built?
In addition to financial assistance, Intel will also provide resources on-site and at its premises, as well as technical support. QuTech and TNO were chosen for their significant experience and expertise in the quantum computing field.
All of which begs the question: When could we expect an operational quantum computer?
Mike Mayberry, Intel Corporate Vice President and Managing Director of Intel Labs, says that at least a decade will pass before a fully-functional quantum computer is available.
There are certain problems that must be overcome before the advent of the first functional quantum computer. In fact, a few of these systems do exist today but they have just a few qubits, whereas several thousand qubits are needed for computing power worthy of the name “quantum”.
A quantum computer needs to be cooled to -273.15 degrees C
Similarly, these systems take up a lot of space because they require a significant amount of cooling: close to absolute zero or, in other words, -273.15°C. Therefore, serious progress must be made before we can think about production on any kind of significant level.
Naturally, Intel is not the only company interested in qubits. In April 2015, IBM announced that it had produced square qubits, whose advantage lies in the fact that several can be placed on a single chip. Google is also on the case with Google X and its Google Quantum A.I. Lab Team. Therefore, we will almost certainly have to wait until the late 2020s or the early 2030s before we see functional systems.
Read the post by Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO, here.