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Honeywell spin-off Quantinuum demonstrates error correction quantum computing milestone

Quantinuum, the quantum computing company from Honeywell, said this week that it has made a technological breakthrough that will help accelerate the commercial adoption of quantum computers.

It has to do with real-time correction of errors.

One of the biggest issues in using quantum computers for any practical purpose is that quantum computer circuits are very susceptible to all kinds of electromagnetic interference, which causes errors in its calculations. These calculation errors must be corrected, either by using software, often after a calculation, or by using other physical parts of the quantum circuitry to check and correct the errors in real time. time. Currently, while scientists are theorizing ways to do this type of real-time error correction, some of the methods have been demonstrated in practice on a real quantum computer.

The theoretical game-changing potential of quantum computers comes from their ability to harness the amazing properties of quantum mechanics. These machines can also speed up the time it takes to run some calculations that can now be done on supercomputers, but take hours or days. To achieve results, however, ironing out calculation errors is paramount. In 2019, Google demonstrated that a quantum computer can perform an esoteric calculation in 200 seconds that would take a traditional supercomputer more than 10,000 years to calculate. In the future, scientists believe that quantum computers will help make fertilizer more efficient and sustainable as well as create new types of space-age materials.

So it might be a big deal that Quantinuum just says it’s showing two methods for doing real-time error-correction calculations run on a quantum computer.

Tony Uttley, Quantinuum’s chief operating officer, said the error correction demonstration was a key point of proof that the company was on track to deliver a “significant advantage” for some commercial real-world applications in the next 18 to 24 months. That means businesses will be able to run certain calculations—perhaps for financial risk or logistics routing—faster, and perhaps with better results, by using quantum computers for at least part of the calculation than they could by just using standard computer hardware. “This lends great credibility to our road map,” Uttley said.

There is a lot of money on the Quantinuum road map. This past February, the company’s majority shareholder, Honeywell, saw future Quantinuum revenue of $2 billion by 2026. That future may just be getting closer.

Uttley says that today, there is a wide disparity in the amount of money that different companies, even direct competitors in the same industry, invest in quantum computing expertise and pilot projects. The reason, he says, is that there are widely differing beliefs about how quickly quantum computers will be able to run key business processes faster or better than existing standard methods. computer. Some people think it will happen in the next two years. Some think that these new machines will only begin to realize their business potential a decade from now. Uttley says he hopes this week’s burst of bug fixes will help tip off more potential Quantinuum customers to the two-year camp.

A $2 billion market opportunity

Honeywell’s projection of at least $2 billion in revenue from quantum computing by 2026 is a revision—a year earlier than previously predicted. The breakdown in error correction should give Honeywell more confidence in that projection.

Quantinuum is one of the most prominent players in the emerging quantum computer industry, with Honeywell making a bold and so far successful bet on a particular way to build a quantum computer. That method is based on using powerful electromagnets to trap and manipulate ions. Others, such as IBM, Google, and Rigetti Computing, have developed quantum computers using superconducting materials. Microsoft is trying to make a difference with this superconducting-based quantum computer but using a slightly different technology that is less prone to errors. Others have created quantum computers using lasers and photons. And some companies, such as Intel, are working on quantum computers where circuits are built using more conventional semiconductors.

The ability to perform real-time error correction will be a huge advantage for Quantinuum and other confined quantum-based computers as they compete for a commercial edge among competing quantum computer companies. But Uttley pointed out that in addition to selling access to self-contained quantum computers through the cloud, Quantinuum also helps customers run algorithms on IBM’s superconducting quantum computer. (IBM is also an investor in Quantinuum.)

Different types of algorithms and calculations may be better suited to one type of quantum computer than another. The trapped ions tend to remain in a quantum state for relatively long periods of time—the record being an hour. Superconducting circuits, on the other hand, tend to stay in a quantum state for a millisecond or less. But this also means that it takes longer for a confined quantum computer to run a calculation than a superconducting one, Uttley said. He envisions a future of “hybrid computing” in which different parts of an algorithm are run on different machines in the cloud—partially a traditional computer, part a confined quantum computer, and part a superconducting quantum. computer.

In a standard computer, information is represented in binary form, either a 0 or a 1, called a bit. Quantum computers use the principles of quantum mechanics to form their circuits, with each circuit unit called a qubit. Qubits can represent 0 and 1 simultaneously. This means that each additional qubit involved in performing calculations doubles the power of a quantum computer. This doubling of power for each additional qubit is one reason quantum computers are, in theory, more powerful than today’s largest supercomputers. But this is only true if the issue of error-correction can be successfully solved and if scientists know how to successfully link enough qubits to exceed the power of existing standard high-performance computing clusters.

The quantinum features two different methods of error correction—one is called a five-qubit code and the other is called a Steane code. Both methods use multiple physical qubits to represent a logical part of the circuit, with some of the qubits actually performing the calculation and others checking and correcting errors in the calculation. As the name suggests, the five-qubit code uses five qubits, while the Steane code uses seven qubits. Uttley says that Quantinuum discovered that the Steane code works “better” than the five-qubit code.

That could mean it will be the dominant form of error correction, at least for confined quantum computers, going forward.

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