A new type of machine could rival quantum computers in exceeding the power of classical computers, researchers say.
Quantum computers rely on the bizarre properties of atoms and the other construction blocks of the universe. The world is a fuzzy place at its very smallest levels — in this realm where quantum physics dominates, things can seemingly exist in two places at once or spin in opposite directions at the same time.
The new computers rely on “boson” particles, and resemble quantum computers, which differ from traditional computers in important ways. Normal computers represent data as ones and zeroes, binary digits known as bits that are expressed by flicking switch-like transistors on or off. Quantum computers, however, use quantum bits, or qubits (pronouced “cue-bits”), that can be on and off at the same time, a state known as “superposition.”
This allows the machines to carry out two calculations simultaneously. Quantum physics permits such behavior because it allows for particles that can exist in two places at once or spin in opposite directions at the same time.
In principle, quantum computers could solve certain problems much faster than can classical computers, because the quantum machines could run through every possible combination at once. A quantum computer with 300 qubits could run more calculations in an instant than there are atoms in the universe.
However, keeping qubits in superposition is challenging, and the problem grows more difficult as more qubits are involved. As such, building quantum computers that are more powerful than classical computers has proven very difficult.
Now, though, two independent teams of scientists have built a novel kind of device known as a boson-sampling computer. Described as a bridge between classical and quantum computers, these machines also make use of the bizarre nature of quantum physics. Although boson-sampling computers theoretically offer less power than quantum computers are capable of producing, the machines should still, in principle, out-perform classical computers in certain problems.
In addition, a boson-sampling computer does not require qubits. As such, “it’s technologically far simpler to create than building a full-scale quantum computer,” said researcher Matthew Broome, a quantum physicist at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Boson-sampling computers are actually a specialized kind of quantum computer (which is known more formally as a universal quantum computer).