5th HLF – Hot Topic 2017: Quantum Computing

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Heidelberg Laureate Forum

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Quantum Computing

Text by Philip Ball

Headlines in the popular media are constantly anticipating an imminent revolution in computing thanks to the advent of quantum computers, which in principle can calculate much faster than ordinary classical computers. Prototype quantum computers already exist: companies such as IBM and Google have developed devices that operate with just a few quantum bits, while the Canadian company D-Wave sells commercial machines.

But what expectations are realistic? Making quantum bits stable enough to carry out reliable computation in their precarious quantum states is still immensely challenging to current technologies. Equally difficult, although less publicized, is the challenge of devising algorithms that can perform useful quantum computing tasks. Scaling up quantum computers from a few quantum bits to the several tens or hundreds needed to significantly out-perform classical devices is far from trivial, not least in terms of the handling of errors.

And there are still profound theoretical problems for the field. It is not yet clear what will be the best type of architecture for large-scale quantum computing. And there is still disagreement about precisely what it is that makes a quantum computer faster – an issue that bears on unsolved questions about the fundamentals of quantum theory.

This session will bring together leading researchers in the field, ranging from theorists concerned with the basic principles of quantum computing and algorithmic development to experts in the physical implementation of these ideas. In talks and panel debates they will explore what the real prospects are for quantum computers in the coming years, what are the hurdles yet to be overcome – and what opportunities exist for young researchers entering this exciting field.

The Experts

Scott Aaronson is the David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. His research interests include quantum computing and theoretical computer science more broadly. He writes the influential blog Shtetl-Optimized.

Jay Gambetta is the Manager of the Theory of Quantum Computing and Information Section at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York, USA.

Seth Lloyd, a self-styled “quantum mechanic”, is the Nam Pyo Suh Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

John Martinis is a Professor of Physics at University of California at Santa Barbara, and a Research Scientist at the Google Quantum AI Laboratory, where he is head of the quantum hardware team whose goal is to build a useful quantum computer.

Chris Monroe is a Distinguished University Professor and Zorn Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, USA, and co-founder and Chief Scientist at IonQ, Inc. He is a leading researcher in the use of individual atoms for realizing quantum computers and quantum simulators. He has also pioneered modular architectures for scaling up atomic quantum computers using photonic networks.

The Host

Philip Ball is a science writer and author, and a former editor for physical sciences at Nature. His next book, to be published in 2018, is an examination of current views on the interpretation of quantum mechanics.


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