Practical quantum computing has been big news this year, with significant advances being made on theoretical and technical frontiers. But one big stumbling block has remained – melding the delicate quantum landscape with the more familiar digital one. This new microprocessor design just might be the solution we need. This is big.

Researchers from the
University of New South Wales (UNSW) have come up with a new kind of
architecture that uses standard semiconductors common to modern processors to
perform quantum calculations. Details aside, it basically means the power of
quantum computing can be unlocked using the same kinds of technology that forms
the foundation of desktop computers and smart phones.

"We often think of
landing on the Moon as humanity's greatest technological marvel," says
designer Andrew Dzurak, director of the Australian National Fabrication
Facility at UNSW. "But creating a microprocessor chip with a billion
operating devices integrated together to work like a symphony – that you can
carry in your pocket – is an astounding technical achievement, and one that's
revolutionised modern life."

Whether or not you agree
that such an achievement would rival space travel, the step is a giant leap for
computing.

"With quantum
computing, we are on the verge of another technological leap that could be as
deep and transformative. But a complete engineering design to realise this on a
single chip has been elusive," says Dzurak.

Quantum computing makes
use of an odd quirk of reality – particles exist in a fog of possibility until
they're connected to a system that defines their properties. This fog of possibility
has mathematical characteristics that are immensely useful, if you know how to
tap into them.

While traditional
computing is binary, representing the Universe as one of two symbols such as 1s
and 0s, quantum computing allows a layer of complexity to be represented by that
spectrum of probabilities. The problem is that this quantum fog, also called a
qubit, is delicate. The whole act of 'measuring' isn't a strict affair, meaning
the particle can coalesce into reality – or collapse, to use the jargon –
accidentally.

Since hundreds, if not
many hundreds of thousands, of qubits are needed to make the whole thing
worthwhile, there's plenty of room for unwanted collapses. To help ensure
unstable qubits don't introduce too many errors, they need to be arranged in
such a way to make them more robust.

"So we need to use
error-correcting codes which employ multiple qubits to store a single piece of
data," says Dzurak. "Our chip blueprint incorporates a new type of
error-correcting code designed specifically for spin qubits, and involves a
sophisticated protocol of operations across the millions of qubits."

This technology is the
first attempt to put all of the conventional silicon circuitry needed to
control and read the millions of qubits needed for quantum computing onto one
chip. In simple terms, conventional silicon transistors are used to control a
flat grid of qubits in much the same way logic gates manage bits inside your
desktop's processors.

"By selecting
electrodes above a qubit, we can control a qubit's spin, which stores the
quantum binary code of a 0 or 1," explains lead author of the study, Menno
Veldhorst, who conducted the research while at UNSW. "And by selecting
electrodes between the qubits, two-qubit logic interactions, or calculations,
can be performed between qubits."

We're still some way off
combining these advances into solid pieces of technology. Even once we have the
first machines capable of modelling molecules in super high detail, or
crunching the stats on climate change on an unprecedented scale, we will need
coders who know how to make use of qubits.

Microsoft has its eye on
that eventuality, recently releasing a free preview of its new quantum
development kit for tomorrow's programmers keen for a head start.

It's happening. One by
one, the technological hurdles are falling. Interested in knowing more? The
clip below has a neat explanation:

Via Sciencealert