Bristol University Outs World's First Photonic Quantum Computer Chip

By Sam Gibbs on at

We've seen D-Wave tout its first £6.4 million quantum computer, the One; but boffins from Bristol have made a giant leap forward in the pursuit of "home" quantum computing with a relatively small-sized, more cost effective chip.

Quantum computing hinges on entanglement -- the connection between two distant particles. The Bristol University team have managed to leverage quantum photonics to produce a re-programmable silicon chip that measures just 7 x 3cm -- something that you could fit in a computer right now, let alone after the miniaturisation that comes from production refinements.

The chip consists of a network of channels that guide, manipulate and interact with single photons of light. Using small electrodes embedded in silicon, photon pairs can be manipulated to produce different states of entanglement between them and mixed states of each photon itself. This is what produces the reprogrammability, and represents the biggest step forward in quantum computing for quite some time:

"This device is approximately ten times more complex than previous experiments using this technology. It’s exciting because we can perform many different experiments in a very straightforward way, using a single reconfigurable chip," said Peter Shadbolt, lead author of the study.

It certainly sounds promising to laymen, but even specialists in the field seem excited. Dr Terry Rudolph from Imperial College in London, was quoted as saying:

“Being able to generate, manipulate and measure entanglement on a chip is an awesome achievement. Not only is it a key step towards the many quantum technologies - such as optical quantum computing - which are going to revolutionize our lives, it gives us much more opportunity to explore and play with some of the very weird quantum phenomena we still struggle to wrap our minds around. They have made it so easy to dial up in seconds an experiment that used to take us months, that I'm wondering if even I can run my own experiment now!”

We're still quite a way off from having a quantum computer to replace that PC or Mac sitting on your desk -- we may never get to that stage, as quantum computing is likely to have different strengths to our current transistor-based systems -- but this could represent quite a big boost to AI in the not too distant future. The next step is to increase the complexity of the chip, something microprocessor manufacturers had to do in the beginning of the humble transistor. Exciting times for the next stage of our computing evolution, and it's great to see Blightly leading the charge -- let's just hope the advanced AI we'll be able to create with it doesn't decide we're not worth the air we breathe. [Bristol University, arXiv via ExtremeTech]