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Quantum Computing on a Chip: Brace for the Revolution

Tom's Hardware | Francisco Pires | Jul 16, 2021

Quantum computing chip - Quantum Computing on a Chip: Brace for the Revolution

The development is being compared to the desktop computing system revolution of the 1960's.

In a moment of triumph that’s being hailed as equivalent to the move from room-scale silicon technology down to desk-sized machines, quantum computing has now gone chip-scale — down from the room-scale contraptions you might have seen elsewhere, including in science fiction.

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The development has been spearheaded by Cambridge-based quantum specialist Riverlane’s work with New York and London-based digital quantum company Seeqc. They’re the first to deploy a quantum computing chip that has an integrated operating system for workflow and qubit management (qubits are comparable to classical computing’s transistors, but capable of pairing between themselves, instantly sharing information via quantum states, and also capable of representing both a 0 and a 1). The last time we achieved this level of miniaturization on a computing technology, we started the computing revolution. Now, expectations for a quantum revolution are on the table as well, and the world will have to adapt to the new reality.

The new chip ushers in scalable quantum computing, and the companies hope to scale the design by increasing surface area and qubit count. The aim is to bring qubits up to millions, a far cry from their current deployed maximum of a (comparatively puny, yet still remarkably complex) 76-qubit system that enabled China to claim quantum supremacy. There are, of course, other ways to scale besides increased qubit counts. Deployment of multiple chips in a single self-contained system or through multiple, inter-connectable systems could provide easier paths to quantum coherency. And on that end, a quantum OS is paramount.

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And this makes sense, since the more than 50 quantum computers already built around the world all operate on independently-developed software. It’s such a nascent field still that there are no standards regarding the deployment and control systems. An easily-deployable, quantum hardware-agnostic OS will undoubtedly accelerate development of applications that take advantage of quantum computing’s strengths, which at the 76 qubit system of China, already enables certain workloads to be crunched millions of times faster than the fastest classical, Turing-type supercomputer could ever hope to achieve.

To achieve this, Riverlane has effectively created a layered Digital Quantum Managament (DQM) SoC (System-On-Chip) that pairs classical computing capabilities with quantum mechanics. The company’s diagrams demonstrate what it calls an SFQ (Single Flux Quantum) co-processor as the base layer of the design, which enables the OS to be exposed to developers with a relatively familiar interface for interaction with the qubits. This offers the capability to “perform digital qubit control, readout and classical data processing functions, as well as being a platform for error correction.”

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