On its continuing quest to push the boundaries of technology, Google has announced a project to design and build a quantum computing chip. As part of the effort, Google will collaborate with a research team at the University of California Santa Barbara that has made significant advances in quantum computing research.
Google's director of engineering, Hartmut Neven, described the hardware initiative in a post Tuesday on the company's research blog.
"The Quantum Artificial Intelligence team at Google is launching a hardware initiative to design and build new quantum information processors based on superconducting electronics," Neven said in the post. "With an integrated hardware group the Quantum AI team will now be able to implement and test new designs for quantum optimization and inference processors."
Quantum computing, first envisioned in the early 1980s by such researchers as Russian mathematician Yuri Manin and U.S. theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, holds the promise of performing calculations and analysis much faster than current silicon chip-based computers can. A quantum computer's operations use qubits (quantum bits) that can exist in different states at the same time.
Standard digital computers rely on binary digits, or bits, expressed as either 0 or 1.
Google's latest quest to build a quantum chip is far from its first foray into quantum computing. It has already been working on a Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab in collaboration with NASA, the Universities Space Research Association and D-Wave Systems, a Canadian company that announced its 512-qubit D-Wave Two quantum computer in 2013.
D-Wave describes the D-Wave Two as the world's "first commercial quantum computer." Built with a superconducting processor, the D-Wave needs extreme conditions -- a temperature of minus-271 degrees Celsius, air pressure that is one-ten-billionth of standard atmospheric pressure and shielding from Earth's magnetic field -- to achieve a quantum-mechanical computing environment.
From AI to Search for Planets
In its new collaboration with the University of California Santa Barbara, Google will work with a team led by professor John Martinis. Earlier this year, Martinis' team announced it was able to achieve new levels of reliability in a five-qubit array; because qubits can exist in multiple states at once, ensuring reliable hardware operations is extremely difficult.
Martinis this year was also one of three winners of the 2014 Fritz London Memorial Prize, awarded every three years for outstanding contributions in low-temperature physics.
Often described as the "holy grail" of computing, quantum computing could help solve a range of today's complex scientific, security and other challenges. It could lead to dramatic advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, Web searching, speech recognition and even the search for distant planets in other star systems.
Google is spending billions of dollars on research and development for a variety of projects, including delivery drones, self-driving cars and wearable computing.