Get your PC to run 18 billion, billion times faster

University of Utah physicist has taken the first step toward creating a quantum computer

How would you like your computer to run 18 billion, billion times faster?

According to a University of Utah physicist, he has taken the first step toward creating a quantum computer that would make that possible.

The increase relies on a quantum bit (qubit) being both a binary one and a binary zero at the same time but in different places. In quantum (sub-atomic) physics the smallest particles of light and matter can be in different places at the same time.

With today's computers an electric bit (binary digit) can be either one (off) or zero (on). This means that with three bits today's computers can store only one of the eight possible combinations of 1 and 0: 1-1-1, 0-1-1, 1-0-1, 1-1-0, 0-0-0, 1-0-0, 0-1-0 and 0-0-1.

However, a quantum computer could store all eight combinations in three bits. Theoretically, a 3-qubit quantum computer could calculate eight times faster than a 3-bit PC. Following the maths, a 64-qubit quantum computer could therefore make calculations 2 to the power 64 times faster than a 64-bit PC -- meaning 18 billion, billion times quicker.

The physicist, Christoph Boehme, assistant professor of physics at the University of Utah, read data stored in the form of the magnetic "spins" of a group of thousands of phosphorus atoms. He said: "We have demonstrated experimentally that the nuclear spin orientation of phosphorus atoms embedded in silicon can be measured by very subtle electric currents passing through the phosphorus atoms.

"We have resolved a major obstacle for building a particular kind of quantum computer, the phosphorus-and-silicon quantum computer," says Boehme. "For this concept, data readout is the biggest issue, and we have shown a new way to read data."

The work is based on an approach to a quantum computer proposed in 1998 by Australian physicist Bruce Kane in a Nature paper titled "A silicon-based nuclear spin quantum computer." In such a computer, silicon -- the semiconductor used in digital computer chips -- would be "doped" with atoms of phosphorus, and data would be encoded in the "spins" of those atoms' nuclei. Externally applied electric fields would be used to read and process the data stored as "spins." Boehme claims it is technically feasible to read the spin of single phosphorus atoms.

He reckons quantum computers are many years away though: ""If you want to compare the development of quantum computers with classical computers, we probably would be just before the discovery of the abacus," he says. "We are very early in development."

Zillion times slower brain:machine interface

Equally fantastic is Hitachi research showing that a human could control an on:off switch by merely thinking about it. Non-invasive optical topography was used to detect changes in the volume of blood in areas of the brain's pre-frontal cortex as subjects carried out mental arithmetic or imagined singing a song. Detected changes were used to turn a model railway on or off.

Optical topography uses infrared light, which can penetrate to the upper levels of the brain and be reflected back, to measure changes in blood volume and hemoglobin concentrations in the brain. It takes just a tenth of a second to carry out a reading

Hitachi hopes that the technique could lead to a capable brain:machine interface for physically impaired patients. It hopes that practical results could result in products by 2011 -- decades before a quantum computer might be built. It is unlikely to be used for calculation.

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