Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"QUANTUM: buffers realize Einstein's 'spooky action'"

Quantum computers use superposition--the ability to encode both a 1 and a 0 on the same qbit--to solve complicated problems that are intractable for normal serial computers, such as creating uncrackable encryption codes. To realize quantum computers, however, engineers need to create all the same types of processing units as normal computers, such as data buffers. Now the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland have demonstrated such a "quantum buffer."

Using Albert Einstein's "spooky action at a distance"--entanglement--the researchers used a gas cell to slow down light beams 500 times slower than the speed of light, thereby demonstrating how complex entangled data sets could be delayed up to 27 nanoseconds. Such data buffers are necessary in all computers, in order to synchronize arithmetic and logic operations.

BOTTOM LINE: Quantum data processing could someday enable incredible supercomputer power to be packed into ultra-tiny devices. Researchers have already demonstrated quantum versions of many necessary computers components, and NIST's demonstration of a quantum buffer takes us one step closer to the dream. However, despite the emergence of many quantum capabilities--such as single-photon communication systems on which it is impossible to eavesdrop--we are still a decade or more away from full-fledged quantum computers.