The new NIST architecture for quantum computing relies on several levels of error checking to ensure the accuracy of quantum bits (qubits). The image above illustrates how qubits are grouped in blocks to form the levels. To implement the architecture with three levels, a series of operations is performed on 36 qubits (bottom row)each one representing either a 1, a 0, or both at once. The operations on the nine sets of qubits produce two reliably accurate qubits (top row). The purple spheres represent qubits that are either used in error detection or in actual computations. The yellow spheres are qubits that are measured to detect or correct errors but are not used in final computations.
A full-scale quantum computer could produce reliable results even if its components performed no better than today’s best first-generation prototypes, according to a paper in the March 3 issue in the journal Nature* by a scientist at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
In theory, such a quantum computer could be used to break commonly used encryption codes, to improve optimization of complex systems such as airline schedules, and to simulate other complex quantum systems.
A key issue for the reliability of future quantum computers--which would rely on the unusual properties of nature’s smallest particles to store and process data--is the fragility of quantum states. Today’s computers use millions of transistors that are switched on or off to reliably represent values of 1 or 0. Quantum computers would use atoms, for example, as quantum bits (qubits), whose magnetic and other properties would be manipulated to represent 1 or 0 or even both at the same time. These states are so delicate that qubit values would be unusually susceptible to errors caused by the slightest electronic "noise."
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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