IBM Quantum Lab at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center (IBM/YouTube)

A 10-year march toward quantum computing

A quantum computer that can crack today's state-of-the-art encryption algorithms is more than a decade off, according to the National Academies.

A new report, "Quantum Computing: Progress and Prospects," seeks to correct public misconceptions about the topic and clarify researchers' progress toward a general-purpose quantum computer.

Besides requiring new hardware, software and algorithms, quantum computing faces other barriers, including the fact that there is currently no way to convert traditional data formats to a quantum state.

But despite these and other technical hurdles, the report stated there is "no fundamental reason why" a large quantum computer won't be built based on current progress in the field.

The big milestone will be when a quantum computer can break many of the classic encryption techniques used in today's computing environment. This would require a machine that is "five orders of magnitude larger and has error rates that are about two orders of magnitude better than current machines," the report said.

The report did not estimate when this might happen, saying the number of intermediate achievements required make it "impossible to project the time frame." It also pointed out  that these breakthroughs may, in fact, never materialize.

Nevertheless, the authors seem optimistic. "In rapidly advancing fields, where there are many unknowns and hard problems, the rate of overall development is set by the ability of the whole community to take advantage of new approaches and insights," they wrote. "Fortunately, many quantum computing researchers have been open about sharing advances to date, and the field will benefit greatly by continuing with this philosophy."

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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