Tag Archives: D-wave

D-Wave drama


It’s a special rite of passage as an academic to see your field, your passion — that thing to which you devote the best of your twenties — steeped in controversy.  Some disciplines, of course, feel this particularly more harshly than others.

One would think that my field, quantum information, would suffer less from this problem considering its status as a niche, speculative technology that’s been in slow but steady development for the better part of three decades.

But one would be wrong.

Are quantum computers among us?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DWave_128chip.jpgMoore’s Law describes an observed trend in the number of transistors on a chip over time; over several decades, this number has doubled roughly every two years. The influence of this phenomenon has had a profound effect on virtually all aspects of modern life: everything from your phone to your microwave exhibits the results.

The problem facing scientists and engineers is this: Moore’s Law is not a law. Nothing guarantees that this doubling trend will continue; computers as you and I know them are approaching a dead end. The basis of modern computer is the doped silicon semiconductor, but in order to increase the number of silicon transistors on a chip, the size of the transistors needs to be decreased. The approach of making smaller transistors has worked for decades, but will eventually run up against the limits of solid state physics. Fundamentally, a different material is needed to fulfill the projections of Moore’s Law.

Over the coming decades, a host of new technologies will supplement and (perhaps) replace the ubiquitous silicon chip. New materials like graphene seem like they may offer at least incremental improvements over silicon, but is there hope for really continuing this exponential growth in the face of the very limits of physics?