A group of researchers from MIT and the University of Innsbruck have just developed a groundbreaking quantum computer that is able to apply Shor’s algorithm in order to perform basic mathematical operations.
The invention uses five atoms controlled in an ion trap and laser pulses that allow the atoms to perform Shor’s algorithm.
This algorithm was developed by Peter Shor, professor at MIT, back in 1994, and is considered to be the most complex quantum algorithm ever created so far. Even though Shor’s technique can successfully factor large numbers, scientists have not been able to create a device that would apply that process.
Until now, that is. According to Isaac Chuang, researcher at MIT, this invention shows that Shor’s algorithm is actually applicable and all it requires is going into the lab, using more technology and getting a powerful quantum computer that can perform complex factoring operations.
In the new quantum computer, researchers were able to convert four of the five atoms into logic gates through laser pulses that place them into superpositions. By doing so, they are able to maintain two different energy states at the same time, awaiting for the fifth atom to store and deliver answers.
Through this process, the computer is able to determine the prime factors of the number 15 (five and three), although this could probably be applied to larger numbers, as well, by simply adding more atoms.
Digital computers perform their calculations using only two numbers – zero and one. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits (superimposing zero and one in a single place).
Through this method, they are able to perform multiple calculations at the same time, with greater efficiency and speed than the current technology.
Factoring big numbers is one of the most challenging issues with today’s computer systems. Scientists were able to factor a 232 digit number using hundreds of modern computers, however this performance took two years to accomplish.
Factoring is a process that stands at the basis of most encryption schemes used by banks, governments and corporations to protect their private information, which means this invention could potentially decipher any encryption that relies on factoring, leaving people’s sensitive data exposed in the process.
Although it hasn’t been proven yet that it can work with large numbers, scientists are hopeful that a quantum computer that uses hundreds of atoms could factor numbers very quickly, thus making the current encryption techniques obsolete.
Nevertheless, this innovation does not only have ramifications for the security world. The quantum factoring technique might even solve mathematical problems that involve extremely large numbers, such as universe scale calculations.
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