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Quantum Computing: Nanophotonics Emerges as Darkhorse Quantum Candidate

By Dick Weisinger

There are currently three roads to building a quantum computer. Google and IBM are betting on an approach that relies on superconducting qubits and quantum calculations. A second approach is to use trapped ion qubits which are more stable than superconducting ones, an approach being used by Honeywell. A qubit is like a standard bit in computing, but it is a quantum version of a two-state value. A qubit is considered to be one of the building blocks for future quantum computers.

Recently a new third approach has emerged: nanophotonics. Quite simply nanophotonics is the study of light at a very tiny nano-scale level. A group in Canada at a startup called Xanadu have created a fully programmable optical chip that is capable of running quantum algorithms. The chip runs at room temperature and could scale to millions of qubits.

Ulrik L. Andersen, Danish physics professor, wrote in Nature magazine that “without doubt, the authors’ demonstration of quantum sampling on a programmable photonic chip using highly squeezed states is remarkable and represents a milestone in this field. However, the number of commercial applications that can be implemented using the current architecture is limited. Completely different platforms are required to run heftier algorithms, such as Shor’s algorithm for factoring large numbers into prime numbers, in an error-free manner. Fortunately, such platforms have been proposed and their implementation constitutes the next step towards constructing a full-blown optical quantum computer.”

Some experts expressed excitement at the announcement. Chris Lee, writer at Ars Technica and physicists, said that “the researchers will have to reduce photon losses in their waveguides, and they will have to reduce the amount of leakage from the laser that drives everything (currently it leaks some light into the computation circuit, which is very undesirable). The thermal management will also have to be scaled. But, unlike previous examples of optical quantum computers, none of these is a ‘new technology goes here’ barrier.”

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