Quantum Computing Breakthrough Paves Way for Ultra-Powerful Machines

A crucial hurdle in the development of ultra-powerful quantum computers has been overcome through the development of the world's first programmable system that can be scaled.

Researchers at the University of Maryland College Park built a quantum computer module that can be linked to other modules to perform simultaneous quantum algorithms.

"Quantum computers can solve certain problems more efficiently than any possible conventional computer," states a paper published this week that details the researchers' findings. "Small quantum algorithms have been demonstrated in multiple quantum computing platforms, many specifically tailored to hardware to implement a particular algorithm or execute a limited number of computational paths.

"Here, we demonstrate a quantum computer module that can be programmed in software to implement [quantum] algorithms."

Quantum computers have been hailed for their revolutionary potential in areas ranging from space exploration to cancer treatment, due to their vast computing power. Rather than using traditional bits—the "ones" and "zeros" used in digital communications—quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits.

Qubits exist in a state of superposition, meaning they can be in two states at once—both a "one" and a "zero"—rather than being restricted to a single binary state in the way traditional computers function. This allows computing challenges to be solved that are beyond the reach of today's fastest supercomputers.

NASA, Google and the CIA are among the companies and organisations working on quantum computers, while the U.K. government has $420 million in quantum technology growth.

NASA's Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is working on assessing the potential quantum computers could have with regards to artificial intelligence, though has not specified what it is aiming to achieve beyond "addressing NASA challenges."