The new Intel processor aims to put quantum technology in more hands

A new quantum processor built on silicon will soon be made available to a select few universities and other institutions across the United States, potentially giving more researchers the opportunity to tinker with quantum computing hardware firsthand.

Made by computer chipmaker Intel, it is hoped that the new processor that offers twice as many qubits as a similar component announced last year will drive research into quantum computing and bring the technology closer to becoming a practical reality.

While quantum computing technology has come a long way, the devices are still more like prototypes or proofs of concept than practical machines, prone to stability issues and errors, and requiring super-specific laboratory conditions.

Dubbed Tunnel Falls, Intel’s new 12-qubit quantum processing unit (or QPU) is being developed to recruit scientists far and wide in an effort to realize the full potential of quantum computing.

“Tunnel Falls is Intel’s most advanced silicon spin qubit chip to date, and it draws on the company’s decades of transistor design and manufacturing experience,” says Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel.

“The release of the new chip is the next step in Intel’s long-term strategy to build a commercial full-stack quantum computing system.”

Just as the bit is the unit of computation in a classical computer, the qubit is central to quantum versions.

Bits represent one of two states, which integrate into sequences that can store information and perform simple logical tasks. Qubits represent complex mixes of states. Combined or “intertwined” with other qubits, these systems can be used to perform unique operations that would take an impractical amount of time for a string of traditional bits to perform.

Intel Electron drops QPU
A schematic representation of a 12-qubit quantum dot gated electron. (Intel Corporation)

Companies like Google and IBM are taking different approaches to Intel, creating powerful versions of the technology that are accessed remotely using software rather than distributing the hardware itself.

By betting on QPUs that run on silicon, like the conventional processors in our computers today, Intel wants to make the transition to quantum computing easier. Second Electronics of nature‘Silicon may be the platform with the greatest potential to deliver large-scale quantum computing.’

Just as there are different ways to store binary information, there are different approaches to isolating, entangling and reading qubits. In Intel’s chips, including Tunnel Falls, tiny structures called quantum dots trap individual electrons, which can then be used to store and read quantum information by virtue of a property known as spin.

These chips can be produced with little modification to Intel’s regular production lines, the company says.

That in turn makes them simpler to produce than other types of qubits we’ve seen, even though we’re still talking incredibly delicate and sophisticated technology. With more qubits produced, Intel can share them with other researchers.

“This level of sophistication allows us to innovate new quantum operations and algorithms in the multi-qubit regime and accelerate our learning rate in silicon-based quantum systems,” says Dwight Luhman, technical staff member at Sandia National Laboratories in the Department of US Energy. .

Teams, including those at Sandia National Laboratories, should be able to work to improve the performance of these QPUs and reduce error rates, which is a perennial problem when it comes to developing quantum computers.

Not everyone agrees that silicon is the way forward for quantum computing, but previous research has shown that putting quantum computers on top of components used in conventional classical computing could be a feasible approach.

Different approaches could be just what we need to solve quantum computing problems, ultimately leading to systems that can tackle massive computing challenges that are far beyond what today’s machines are capable of tackling.

“Although there are still fundamental questions and challenges that need to be resolved along the path to a fault-tolerant quantum computer, the academic community can now explore this technology and accelerate research development,” says Clarke.

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