Feature

Quest for qubits

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Science  02 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6316, pp. 1090-1093
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6316.1090

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Summary

Building a quantum computer has gone from a far-off dream of a few university scientists to an immediate goal for some of the world's biggest companies. Tech giants Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Google are all plowing tens of millions of dollars into quantum computing, which aims to harness quantum mechanics to vastly accelerate computation. Yet the contenders are betting on different technological horses: No one yet knows what type of quantum logic bit, or qubit, will power a practical quantum computer. Google, often considered the field's leader, has signaled its choice: tiny, superconducting circuits. Its group has built a nine-qubit machine and hopes to scale up to 49 within a year—an important threshold. At about 50 qubits, many say a quantum computer could achieve "quantum supremacy" and do something beyond the ken of a classical computer, such as simulating molecular structures in chemistry and materials science, or solving problems in cryptography. Small startup company ionQ, a decided underdog, is sticking with its preferred technology: trapped ions.

  • * Gabriel Popkin is a freelance journalist in Mount Rainier, Maryland.