In July, I wrote a post on the basics of quantum computation and the current state of the art. This field offers the promise of drastic improvements over our current computers, particularly in the ways they can factor large numbers. (That sounds dull, but it’s critical to modern cryptography, among other things.) Though quantum computers are not yet close to being cost-effective, their future is rapidly evolving from science fiction to science fact.
The development of real-world quantum computers relies on overcoming two challenges. The first is scientific: given the limitations of physics, is quantum computation possible? What sorts of calculations can be done with it, and how can the technique best be applied?
The second challenge is from the engineering standpoint; true quantum computers require atom-level precision and accuracy in the creation of the qubits. While current transistors in silicon-based chips are just reaching 22 nm in size, atoms themselves are a hundred times smaller. Truly controlling the positions of individual atoms on a surface might have, at one time, seemed an enormous hurdle to manufacturing quantum computers.
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