Quantum computer experiments at UMD show that combining quantum computer pieces doesn’t have to mean combining their error rates.
Pobody’s nerfect—not even the indifferent, calculating bits that are the foundation of computers. But JQI Fellow Christopher Monroe’s group, together with colleagues from Duke University, have made progress toward ensuring we can trust the results of quantum computers even when they are built from pieces that sometimes fail. They have shown in an experiment, for the first time, that an assembly of pieces can be better than the worst parts used to make it. In a paper published in the journal Nature today (October 4, 2021), the team shared how they took this landmark step toward reliable, practical quantum computers.
In their experiment, the researchers combined several qubits—the quantum version of bits—so that they functioned together as a single unit called a logical qubit. They created the logical qubit based on a quantum error correction code so that, unlike for the individual physical qubits, errors can be easily detected and corrected, and they made it to be fault-tolerant—capable of containing errors to minimize their negative effects.
“Qubits composed of identical atomic ions are natively very clean by themselves,” says Monroe, who is also a Fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science and a College Park Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. “However, at some point, when many qubits and operations are required, errors must be reduced further, and it is simpler to add more qubits and encode information differently. The beauty of error correction codes for atomic ions is they can be very efficient and can be flexibly switched on through software controls.”
This is the first time that a logical qubit has been shown to be more reliable than the most error-prone step required to make it. The team was able to successfully put the logical qubit into its starting state and measure it 99.4% of the time, despite relying on six quantum operations that are individually expected to work only about 98.9% of the time.
That might not sound like a big difference, but it’s a crucial step in the quest to build much larger quantum computers. If the six quantum operations were assembly line workers, each focused on one task, the assembly line would only produce the correct initial state 93.6% of the time (98.9% multiplied by itself six times)—roughly ten times worse than… Brinkwire News Summary.