Quantinuum makes a significant breakthrough in quantum computing by connecting the dots of its previous research
To appreciate the significance of Quantinuum’s latest research, it is important to first understand why quantum error correction plays such an important role in quantum computing.
Solutions to world-class problems such as climate change, new pharmaceuticals, custom design of new materials, long-range electric vehicle batteries, and many other applications are beyond the computational capacity of even the most powerful supercomputers in the world. today.
Quantum computing is not just a faster or bigger type of computer. It’s basically a different kind of computing technology, rooted in the weird and bizarre world of quantum mechanics. Quantum computing has the potential to solve huge and complex problems quickly, but only if equipped with the large number of qubits (quantum bits) needed to do the job.
For example, a typical computer will probably never be able to crack Bitcoin’s encryption key, even if it has the remaining lifetime of the universe to solve it. According to the University of Sussex in the UK, it would take a quantum computer with 13 million qubits running for around 24 hours to crack the key to Bitcoin. Increasing the number of qubits to 300 million qubits would reduce the quantum computer’s solving time to about an hour or less.
For perspective, quantum computers today have a small number of qubits, ranging from 50 to several hundred qubits with the likelihood of having several thousand qubits in a few years. As the example from the University of Sussex shows, this is still only a tiny fraction of the number needed to perform serious and useful calculations.
Can’t we just add a lot of qubits to a quantum computer?
Physical and technical considerations associated with qubit fidelity and error correction limit the ad hoc addition of large numbers of qubits to a quantum computer. Quantum scientists have yet to develop a usable and scalable method to correct errors.
Conventional computers rarely make mistakes, so it makes little difference if a few bits are flipped over trillions of calculations. Unlike conventional computer bits which operate strictly as a 1 or a 0, qubits operate in quantum superposition states without the precision of being exactly 1 or 0.
Qubits are also very susceptible to errors caused by environmental factors such as noise, wiring, and even other qubits. Qubit errors can even occur when exposed to relatively weak galactic space radiation. Additionally, the quantum state of a qubit deteriorates rapidly, requiring a quantum computer to initiate and complete all of its operations before the quantum states collapse. It’s no exaggeration to say that every part of the quantum computing process is a potential source of qubit errors.
Quantum error correction (QEC) is complicated not only because of its quantum nature, but also because there are several types of qubit errors. Depending on the quantum technology and process, the number of errors can range from one error per hundred calculations to one error per several thousand calculations.
Error correction is necessary because it will allow us to build large quantum computers that are fault-tolerant and scalable to hundreds of thousands of corrected qubits.
Importance of Quantinuum Fault Tolerance Success
Quantinuum has published the first research paper to demonstrate an end-to-end fault-tolerant circuit with entangled logic qubits using real-time error correction. It is also the first time that two error-corrected logical qubits have realized a circuit with higher fidelity than its constituent physical qubits.
Importantly, Quantinuum’s fault-tolerance demonstration creates a new starting point that could allow future researchers to increase the number of qubits.
Importantly, Quantinuum’s QCCD architecture has made a significant contribution to the company’s ongoing research and enabled experimentation with geometries. The flexibility of QCCD zones allows qubits to be arbitrarily and experimentally rearranged to accommodate codes with exotic geometries and codes that are not one- or two-dimensional, especially compared to what is possible with quantum computers at fixed geometry. The QCCD design was first proposed by David Wineland’s group at NIST in a 1998 paper.
Although the initial QCCD architecture contained unresolved technical issues, Tony Uttley, former president of Honeywell Quantum Systems, and the Honeywell team decided to develop the company’s next-generation quantum system using the QCCD architecture. Fully aware of the risks, Uttley decided that the opportunity for greater rewards outweighed what he believed to be manageable risks.
Given Quantinuum’s technical achievements in 2022 and before, the decision to use the QCCD architecture has proven to be correct.
Connect the dots of 2022
The following list details the advances made by Quantinuum that have established foundational work for follow-up research in 2022 and beyond.
- March 3 – A world SPAM (state preparation and measurement error) record of barium-137 use provided measured evidence of a near-term future with preparation and measurement error rates physical status (SPAM) within 105 interval. Improving SPAM fidelity helps reduce the errors that accumulate in today’s “noisy” quantum machines, which is essential for moving to fault-tolerant systems that prevent errors from propagating into a system and corrupt the circuitry.
- April 14 – Quantinuum’s sixth quantum volume record was measured at 4,096 (212). The QCCD architecture enabled an increase in qubits and a corresponding increase in fidelity. Important because it is necessary to increase the fidelity when other qubits are added later to ensure that they will be useful in terms of computation. The Quantinuum H1-2 system has used its 12 qubits for this new stage, signaling the likelihood that Quantinuum will soon add more qubits.
- May 24 – InQuanto is released. It is a quantum computational chemistry software platform designed for computational chemists. This platform could only be run with precision using a high-performance quantum hardware system such as Quantinuum’s H1 series.
- June 14 – Upgrade from 12 to 20 qubits to the H1-1 machine. The number of gate areas in the QCCD architecture has also been increased from 3 to 5 to allow for more concurrent operations and improved parallelization in circuit execution. Prior planning and work in 2021 set the stage for this upgrade.
- July 11 – Junction transport with barium and ytterbium, a measured scaling method that takes advantage of 2D grids. It allows two different species of ions to move across a junction in a surface trap together as a pair. This will be incorporated into the future design of the H3 system model. It should make scaling easier and provide faster computation, allow more qubits to be added, and reduce errors.
- July 20 – New phase of matter realized in H1-1 as described in the research paper: “Dynamic topological phase realized in a trapped ion quantum simulator” (peer review published in Nature for the 2021 work)
- Aug 4 – New quantum dynamics simulation technique demonstrated as described in the research paper: “Simulations of Holographic Dynamics with a Trapped Ion Quantum Computer” (peer review published in Nature Physics for 2021 work)
- August 4 – This article is based on this research paper: “Implementing Fault-Tolerant Tangle Gates on Five-Qubit Code and Color Code”. This work justifies a future where real-time quantum error correction paves the way for a fault-tolerant regime.
The bottom line
Real-time error correction is essential for the continued development of reliable large-scale quantum computing. Correcting errors is a priority for almost every company in the quantum ecosystem; that is why a lot of research is being carried out by a number of companies and universities.
Quantinuum has taken a small but very important two-qubit step towards fault tolerance. It opened the door to a new and promising direction of research.
Without fault tolerance, today’s quantum computing technology will not be able to solve the important world-class computing problems we hoped it could solve. So the question is: can we do it? In my opinion, absolutely.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
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