Google Building Quantum Computing Processors

Company’s artificial intelligence team partners with leading quantum electronics scientists.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

September 3, 2014

2 Min Read
Google Building Quantum Computing Processors
Five cross-shaped qubits UCSB’s Martinis Group has dubbed Xmons. Placing them in a single row, the group discovered, is a simple and effective arrangement. (Photo: UCSB)

Google has teamed up with a group of university scientists in California in an effort to build quantum information processors.

Instead of the binary “on” and “off” states of a transistor in processors today, a quantum chip can theoretically use a transistor equivalent that takes advantage of the unique ability of subatomic-size units called “qubits” to be in multiple states simultaneously.

Google has a research team dedicated to Quantum Artificial Intelligence. On Tuesday, the company announced that the team kicked off a hardware initiative to design and build quantum processors based on superconducting electronics.

The team has brought on board John Martinis, a University of California, Santa Barbara, professor, and his team of researchers collectively referred to as the Martinis Group. They are an award-winning group that has been focusing on development of high-fidelity superconducting quantum electronic components.

“With an integrated hardware group the Quantum AI team will now be able to implement and test new designs for quantum optimization and inference processors based on recent theoretical insights as well as our learnings from the D-Wave quantum annealing architecture,” Google representatives wrote in a blog post announcing the hardware initiative.

D-Wave is a Canadian company that has reportedly built the first commercially available quantum computer. Called D-Wave One, it runs on a 128-qubit chipset.

Google’s Quantum AI lab, launched last year, is based on D-Wave Two, the second-generation quantum computer powered by a 512-qubit chipset. U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Universities Space Research Association participated in launching the lab.

Google said it would continue working with D-Wave scientists, experimenting with the company’s Vesuvius system at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The company plans to upgrade Vesuvius to a 1,000-qubit processor, codenamed “Washington.”

The promise of quantum computing is to make computers infinitely more powerful. The problem, however, is that even the best quantum-level hardware available today is unreliable.

The Martinis Group has come up with a way to arrange qubits in a way that makes the array of qubits a lot more stable than has been previously possible. The group’s paper describing the results was published in the scientific journal Nature in April.

Austin Fowler, a UCSB physicist who has laid much of the theoretical foundation underneath the Martinis Group’s work, said there were still more issues that needed to be resolved for quantum computing to gain commercial traction.

Error rate in the system his colleagues have proposed is still too high for the technology to become commercially viable, he said in a statement, explaining that the error rate should be below one percent. “If we can get one order of magnitude lower … our qubits could become commercially viable,” he was quoted as saying.

“There are more frequencies to worry about, and it’s certainly true that it’s more complex. However, the physics is no different.”

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