Industry heavy hitters including IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Intel, as well as a few startups like Rigetti Computing and Quantum Circuits Incorporated, are all making steady advances toward more capable quantum computers by using superconducting circuits cooled to extreme temperatures.
In both cases, the researchers created quantum simulators, machines capable of using analog calculations to model how quantum particles interact.
“While our system does not yet constitute a universal quantum computer, we can effectively program it by controlling the interactions between the qubits,” says Mikhail Lukin, a physicist at Harvard who developed on of the systems in collaboration with Vladan Vuletic at MIT. Will Zeng, a researcher at Rigetti Computing, a company that has received tens of millions in venture funding to pursue quantum computing, says quantum simulation at this scale is a significant step.
Simulating quantum effects was the original purpose for a quantum computer proposed by physicist Richard Feynman more than 40 years ago. Quantum computers work in a fundamentally different way from conventional computers.
While a normal computer takes binary bits of information, encoded as either 1 or 0, and performs calculations on them one after another, a quantum computer exploits two counterintuitive features of quantum mechanism-entanglement and superposition-to perform calculations in parallel.
In a landmark study published this September, a team at IBM used a quantum computer, called IBM Q, to simulate the structure of beryllium hydride, the most complex molecule ever analyzed in this way.