Thursday, May 08, 2008

Qutrit breakthrough brings quantum computers closer

Toffoli gate

The folks playing with quantum computers have been claiming for years that their gadgets will one day make today’s supercomputers look like quivering lumps of jelly. But so far, their computers have yet to match the calculating prowess of a 10-year old with ADHD.

The most exciting work so far has been on universal quantum logic gates, the building blocks of any computer. A number of groups have built and demonstrated these and one team even took their gates for the computing equivalent of a run round the block by factorising the number 15.

The trouble is that, to do anything useful with universal quantum gates, you need at least dozens and preferably hundreds of them, all joined together. And because of various errors and problems that creep in, that’s more or less impossible with today’s technology.

Which is why a breakthrough by an Australian group led by Andrew White at the University of Queensland is so exciting. They have built and tested quantum logic gates that are vastly more powerful than those that have gone before by exploiting the higher dimensions available in in quantum mechanics. For example, a qubit can be encoded in a photon’s polarisation. But a photon has other dimensions which can also be used to carry information, such as its arrival time, photon number or frequency. By exploiting these, a photon can easily be used as a much more powerful three level system called a qutrit.

This is how the Ozzie team have exploited the idea: during a computation, their gates convert qubits into qutrits, process the quantum information in this more powerful form and then convert it back into qubits. All using plain old vanilla optics.

That allows a dramatic reduction in the number of gates necessary to perform a specific task. Using only three of the higher dimension logic gates, the team has built and tested a Toffoli logic gate that could only have been constructed using 6 conventional logic gates. And they say that a computer made up of 50 conventional quantum logic gates could be built using only 9 of theirs.

That’s a significant reduction. What’s more, they reckon that these kinds of numbers are possible with today’s linear optics technology.

That means these guys are right now bent over an optical bench with screwdrivers and lens cloths at the ready, attempting to build the world’s most powerful quantum computer. We may see the results–a decent factorisation perhaps–within months.

Could it be that Australia is about to become the center of the quantum computing world?

Ref: Quantum Computing using Shortcuts through Higher Dimensions

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