We think of data storage as a modern problem, but even ancient civilizations kept records. While much of the world used stone tablets or other media that didn’t survive the centuries, the Incas used something called quipu which encoded numeric data in strings using knots. Now the ancient system of recording numbers has inspired a new way to encode qubits in a quantum computer.
With quipu, knots in a string represent a number. By analogy, a conventional qubit would be as if you used a string to form a 0 or 1 shape on a tabletop. A breeze or other “noise” would easily disturb your equation. But knots stay tied even if you pick the strings up and move them around. The new qubits are the same, encoding data in the topology of the material.
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Quantum computers are really in their infancy. If you created a few logic gates with tubes back in the 1930s, it would be difficult to predict all the ways we would use computers today. However, you could probably guess where at least some of the problems would lie in the future. One of the things we are pretty sure will limit quantum computer development is error correction.
As far as we know, every quantum qubit we’ve come up with so far is very fragile and prone to random errors. That’s why every practical design today incorporates some sort of QEC — quantum error correction. Of course, error correction isn’t news. We use it all the time on unreliable storage media or communication channels and high-reliability memory. The problem is, you can’t directly clone a qubit (a quantum bit), so it is hard to use traditional error correction techniques with qubits.
After all, the whole point to a qubit is we don’t measure it until the end of the computation which, like Schrödinger’s cat, seals its fate. So if you were to “read” a bunch of qubits to form a checksum or a CRC, you’d destroy their quantum nature in the process making your computer not very useful. You can’t even copy a bit to use something like triple redundancy, either. There seems to be no way to practically duplicate a qubit.
Continue reading “Scientific Honesty And Quantum Computing’s Latest Theoretical Hurdle”