Learning From The Atom-Based Quantum Computer
Dr. Pravir Malik is the founder and chief technologist of QIQuantum.
Quantum theory has proven to be one of the most fruitful scientific theories in that it has indisputably resulted in technology that has helped build modern life. This is because, at its core, quantum mechanics is about the rules governing how atoms behave, interact with each other and interact with light. Concrete devices (transistors and semiconductors, which are at the base of telecommunication and computing technology), applications (GPS, MRI, and laser) and disciplines (chemistry) have emerged from an understanding of quantum mechanics.
Therefore, it is easy to continue to jump on the bandwagon when the next breakthrough quantum-based application—quantum computers—is projected as imminent and to believe that the basis of such computers—probabilistic dynamism, superposition, entanglement—must be true. After all, hasn’t quantum technology already proven itself without a doubt?
But as I have pointed out in one of my previous articles, it is such thinking that is creating a massive bubble that continues to increase in size. And as I discussed in a different article, the quantum computing industry is only asking deeper and deeper questions—beyond what is considered to be right or wrong—that can successfully redirect the quantum computing industry and reverse the dissipation of billions of dollars when the bubble bursts.
My objective in this article is to point out that many of the projected paradoxes and difficulties associated with the current conception of quantum computation—such as limits on the size of quantum computers, the fleetingness of quantum-state lifetimes, the instability of quantum computing gates tied to the effect of decoherence and therefore never allowing a meaningful level of computing accuracy—might be unnecessary and that there may be another more fruitful path forward if we are to concentrate on the most available, most stable, most prolific of existing quantum computers: the atom.
The atom, let us remember, is a world in itself.
Atoms, after all, are comprised of quantum particles. Their nuclei are made from quarks bonded together through the action of bosons. Electrons, another type of quantum particle, exist in stable orbits around the nucleus. Electrons may exist in multiple superposed states, and the fact that all atoms of the same atomic number exhibit the same properties regardless of where in the universe they exist reinforces the quantum phenomenon of entanglement. This also suggests that the lifetime of quantum states (such as superposition and entanglement, among others) do endure.
But this stable entity is in a continual state of change due to interaction with or releasing photons. In other words, the atom is subject to persistent dynamics of quantum computation as light (a.k.a photons) continually changes its state. The atom, then, is perhaps the most stable of quantum computers, robustly operating in a range of environments and also proving that it is not subject to decoherence while easily connecting with other atoms to create complex chains of molecules—therefore proving, again and again, that scalability of quantum computers is the natural law of things.
So, the question, then, is if nature can easily and abundantly scale atom-based quantum computers that continually exhibit superposition and entanglement and remain stable and beyond the vagaries of decoherence, then why can’t leading companies at the forefront of today’s quantum computing industry?
Learning From the Atom
The possible answer, simply, is that we are approaching quantum computation with restrictive biases. For example, our proven success with digital computation, where we continue to witness a plethora of useful applications, has framed our thinking about how to think of computation. We, therefore, continue to approach computation happening in a fundamentally different medium with the same thinking and goals. But quantum computation, necessarily dealing with the realm that separates the invisible from the visible, has to offer something different, where there is surely something new and fundamentally creative that continues to take place. I begin to study the possibilities in more detail in my book The Emperor’s Quantum Computer.
For example, the scalability of atom-based quantum computers combining together to form chains of functional molecules already suggests that the very mathematics and logic of what is happening at the quantum level needs to be thought of differently than the probability-based qubit-enabled approach at the center of the conceived quantum computation foundation today.
The visible, after all, does not appear magically out of the invisible. The logic of backward extrapolation, whereby the “function” embodied by different atoms combining to form molecules, hints at a very different set of dynamics of function preceding the form taken in atoms that must exist at the quantum levels. There is a different quantum-level language that becomes visible when focusing on the function of atoms. After all, an atom with an atomic number of 47, in contrast to 26, say, defines possible behavior (or function) of silver regardless of where it may exist.
Such insights can be leveraged to conceive of a different architecture that might, in fact, be more useful in the building of quantum computers. Leveraging the success of the atom-based quantum computer will also inevitably drive down the cost associated with building quantum computers. But further, a functional language at the quantum level also hints at a range of other possible key principles—beyond superposition, entanglement, tunneling and annealing—that must exist and must be leveraged if a quantum computer is to begin to imitate nature.
The atom is the first concrete and stable structure that comprises all the complexity of quantum dynamics. Its mysteries have barely been understood, and worlds upon worlds continue to be built with it as a basis. Surely turning a fresh eye on this wonder of creation, using the lens of quantum dynamics, might also allow us to participate more creatively in concretizing possibilities through a new and different genre of such atom-based quantum computers.
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