INTEL HAS CLAIMED a major quantum computing development by "inventing" a silicon-based spin qubit chip.
"But what the hell does that mean?" you may ask. Well, a qubit is like a bit, only it exists in multiple states at once; so while a bit is either 1 or 0 (on or off) a qubit can be both 1 and 0 until it is observed. This means a qubit, when scaled up, can carry a lot more data than traditional computing bits.
However, qubits are as fragile as the egos of some men on Twitter, so any noise or unintended observation can cause them to bleed their data.
To curtail this, qubits are normally stored and worked on at extremely low temperatures, but that throws up hurdles in the way of material and electronic controls. And superconducting qubits are pretty big and are normally found in systems the size of a 55-gallon drum.
Such bulky machines are hardly ideal for making quantum computing appeal to the commercial and consumer world. This is where the spin side comes in.
Silicon spin qubits are smaller and stronger than their superconducting siblings, which should allow them to be scaled for commercial systems of the future. They can also function at higher temperatures, 1 kelvin rather than 20 milikelvin, which in theory makes working with a quantum computer a lot more practical, particularly as control electronics can be placed closer to the quantum processor.
Basically, spin qubits formed from manipulating the spinning direction of electrons and placed on silicon could be the way to get quantum computing out of the research labs of academics and into the hands of smaller firms and even into desktop PCs.
The silicon quantum chips have been made using Intel's 300mm process tech and are based on isotopically pure wafers, not dissimilar to how the chipmaker knocks-out its traditional silicon transistor tech and chips.
Intel did note that more research is needed into both the hardware and software side of spin qubits and their role in quantum computing, and it still has challenges ahead of it in producing quantum processors at scale.
And the current chip is but two qubits in size so is only really useful for processing simple quantum algorithms.
But the work of Intel's chip boffins is yet another step down the road towards quantum computing becoming available to all, though when exactly that will happen is still anyone's guess. µ
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