[IWAR] TECH Quantum computing

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Date: Mon Jan 19 1998 - 10:27:32 PST

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    Quantum computing feasible if errors can be corrected
          Copyright  1998 Nando.net
          Copyright  1998 Scripps-McClatchy Western
       ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (January 17, 1998 00:19 a.m. EST
       - Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory say the still-visionary
       but powerful concept of "quantum computing" is feasible if designers
       build in ways to automatically correct for anticipated errors.
       Such advanced computers, which would use atoms to hold and store
       information, will need to store that information redundantly, or many
       times, the scientists say.
       And they will have to use a system to constantly check and correct
       errors to which the high-speed atomic computer itself would be prone.
       The research, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science,
       "really opens the door and makes a broad road for the field of quantum
       computing to follow," said Los Alamos physicist Raymond Laflamme, one
       three authors who did the research.
       Laflamme, a physicist, collaborated with Los Alamos colleagues Emanuel
       Knill, a mathematician, and Wojciech H. Zurek, a physicist.
       Their Science paper, called "Resilient Quantum Computation," states
       "accurate quantum computation is possible provided that the error per
       operation is below a threshold value."
       Unlike today's computers, which use electronic gates to represent a one
       or a zero on silicon wafers, quantum computing would use atoms to store
       computer data representing the information atomically as ones, zeros,
       and even combinations of ones and zeros.
       Laflamme said that would greatly magnify the amount of information and
       the speed with which information can be processed. However, "(atomic)
       states are very fragile" and the backup error-checking and restoration
       system is essential to maintaining accurate information, he said.
       Quantum computing, still in its conceptual infancy, would be an
       leap in the power of machines to handle massive numbers and solve very
       complex problems easily.
       Laflamme said such machines would be many times more powerful than the
       fastest supercomputer, currently at Sandia National Laboratories in
       Scientists last fall used the Sandia machine, built by the Intel Corp.,
       to set a world record of 1.34 trillion calculations per second, said
       Hale, Sandia's computer-science director.
       Hale, who had yet to see the Los Alamos paper, said the work is "headed
       in the right direction" because existing computer technology has
       built-in limits on size and speed.
       "At some point we can't make it (current computers) any smaller or
       faster," he said. "The atomization or quantum effort will be the next
       big step. Obviously, we are going to have to tackle this problem
       head-on, and it sounds like they have made a significant contribution."
       Also at Sandia, Jim Tomkins said that while quantum computers remain "a
       ways off," they are tantalizing to many scientists.
       Tomkins, who oversees Sandia's supercomputer, said quantum designs
       offer "high, dense storage and speed capabilities."
       "You can store a huge amount of information and very densely when you
       think of the huge number of atoms available," he said.
       Laflamme said that characteristic is also what makes the error-checking
       solution feasible. He said because of the vast capacity of a quantum
       system, the information redundancy and error-checking "consume only a
       fraction of the number of bits (information storage units) available."
       While scientists dream of quantum machines that could virtually
       instantly juggle monster numbers and perhaps accurately model big
       science problems like global warming, Laflamme said there are practical
       social applications.
       One, he said, would be guaranteeing security in electronic financial
       transactions by using a code based on a key with such long numbers that
       it would be virtually impossible to crack.
       Encryption, such as coding of classified government information, is one
       of the big reasons the Los Alamos scientists are working on the
       Los Alamos is the nation's premier nuclear-weapons laboratory. Sandia
       has prime responsibility for engineering nuclear weapons.
       Tomkins said Sandia, which helped spawn the parallel computing
       revolution that is the basis of its supercomputer, said Sandia
       to focus on "more near-term computer advances."
       Many computer scientists have doubted that quantum computing is even
       possible because it will be so prone to routine errors caused by the
       inherent inability to maintain information integrity, atom by atom.
       Atoms easily lose and gain electrical charge - and that introduces a
       major source for error.
       That's why the Los Alamos research is considered important in laying a
       foundation in the field.
       By LAWRENCE SPOHN, The Albuquerque Tribune

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