Quantum Computing |
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By David Deutsch and Artur Ekert from the March 1998 issue of
Many milestones in the history of technology have involved the
discovery of new ways of harnessing nature --- exploiting various
physical resources such as materials, forces, and sources of energy.
In the twentieth century information was added to this list when the
invention of computers allowed complex information processing to be
performed outside human brains. The history of computer technology
has itself involved a sequence of changes from one type of physical
realisation to another --- from gears to relays to valves to
transistors, integrated circuits and so on. Today’s advanced
lithographic techniques can etch logic gates and wires less than a
micron across onto the surfaces of silicon chips. Soon they will
yield even smaller components, until we reach the point where logic
gates are so small that they consist of only a few atoms each. On the scale of human perception and above, classical
(non-quantum) laws of physics are good phenomenological
approximations, but on the atomic scale the laws of quantum mechanics
become dominant, and they have quite a different character. If
computers are to continue to become faster (and therefore smaller),
new, What makes quantum computers so different from their classical
counterparts? Let us take a closer look at the basic unit of
information: the bit. From a physical point of view a bit is a
two-state system: it can be prepared in one of two distinguishable
states representing two logical values --- no or yes, false or true,
or simply 0 or 1. For example, in digital computers, the voltage
between the plates of a capacitor can represent a bit of information:
a charge on the capacitor denotes 1 and the absence of charge denotes
0. One bit of information can be also encoded using, for instance,
two different polarisations of light or two different electronic
states of an atom. Now, quantum mechanics tells us that if a bit can
exist in either of two distinguishable states, it can also exist in
coherent superpositions of them. These are further states, which in
general have no classical analogues, in which the atom represents
both values, 0 and 1, simultaneously. To get used to the idea that a
physical quantity can have two values at once, it is helpful to
consider the experiment in Fig. 1a. A half—silvered mirror is one that reflects half the light
that impinges upon it, while allowing the remaining half to pass
throughunaffected. Let us aim a single photon at such a mirror, as in
Fig.1a. What happens? One thing we know is that the photon
doesn’t split in two: we can place photodetectors wherever we
like in the apparatus, fire in a photon, and verify that if any of
the photodetectors registers a hit, none of the others do. In
particular, if we place a photodetector behind the mirror in each of
the two possible exit beams, the photon is detected with equal
probability at either detector. So does the photon leave the first
mirror in one of the two possible directions, at random? It does not!
It may seem obvious that at the very least, the photon is
Suppose that a particular photon
followed the horizontal path marked H in Fig.1b. after striking the
mirror. Then (by comparison with Fig.1a) we should find that the two
detectors registered hits with equal probability. Exactly the same
would be observed if the photon were on the vertical path V. Hence if
it were really the case that the photon takes exactly one path
through the apparatus --- no matter which one --- detectors A and B
would on average each fire on half the occasions when the experiment
is performed. However, that is not what happens. It turns out that in
the arrangement shown, the photon The inescapable conclusion is that the photon must, in some sense,
have travelled both routes at once --- for if either of the two paths
is blocked by an absorbing screen, it immediately becomes equally
probable that A or B is struck. In other words, blocking off either
of the paths illuminates B; with both paths open, the photon somehow
receives information that prevents it from reaching B, information
that travels along the other path at the speed of light, bouncing off
the mirror, exactly as a photon would. This property of quantum
interference --- that there appear to be invisible counterparts
affecting the motion of particles that we detect --- applies not only
to photons but to all particles and all physical systems. Thus
quantum theory describes an enormously larger reality than the
universe we observe around us. It turns out that this reality has the
approximate structure of multiple variants of that universe,
co-existing and affecting each other only through interference
phenomena --- but for the purposes of this article, all we need of
this ‘parallel universes’ ontology is the fact that what we
see as a single particle is actually only one tiny aspect of a
tremendously complex entity, the rest of which we cannot detect
directly. Quantum computation is all about making the invisible
aspects of the particle --- its counterparts in other universes ---
work for us. One effect that is especially useful in quantum computation
can be demonstrated if we delay the photon on one of the paths H or
V. This can be done by inserting a sliver of glass into that path, as
illustrated in Fig.2. Since the interference between the photon and
its invisible counterpart depends on their exact arrival times, we
can, for instance, choose the thickness of the glass, and hence the
delay time, in such a way that the photon will certainly (i.e. in all
universes) emerge at detector B instead of detector A. Thus something
that has happened on only one of the paths (and hence in only one of
the universes) has affected both of them. We shall return to this
point below. Just as the photon can be in a coherent superposition of being on
the path H and on the path V, any quantum bit, or But now let us push the idea of superpositions of numbers a little
further. Consider a register composed of three physical bits. A
classical 3-bit register can store exactly one of eight different
numbers i.e the register can be in one of the eight possible
configurations 000, 001, 010, ..., 111, representing the numbers 0 to
7. But a quantum register composed of three qubits can simultaneously
store up to eight numbers in a quantum superposition. It is quite
remarkable that eight different numbers can be physically present in
the same register; but it should be no more surprising than the
numbers 0 and 1 both being present in the same qubit. If we add more
qubits to the register its capacity for storing quantum information
increases exponentially: four qubits can store 16 different numbers
at once, and in general L qubits can store up to 2 What types? As we have said, ordinary information storage is not
one of them, for although the computer now holds all the outcomes of
2 For instance, a chess-playing quantum computer could use it to
investigate a trillion possible continuations from a given position
in roughly the number of steps that a classical computer (using blind
‘brute-force’ searching) would need to investigate a mere
million. Despite the greater scope for ‘tree-pruning’ in
classical chess-playing algorithms, this is likely to provide a very
significant improvement. As Gilles Brassard of the
Universitéde Montréal has recently pointed out, another
important application of Grover’s algorithm will be in
cryptanalysis, to attack classical cryptographic schemes such as DES
(the Data Encryption Standard)[2]. Cracking DES essentially
requires a search among 2 Mathematicians believe (firmly, though they have not actually
proved it) that in order to factorise a number with N decimal digits,
any classical computer needs a number of steps that grows
exponentially with N: that is to say, adding one extra digit to the
number to be factorised generally multiplies the time required by a
fixed factor. Thus, as we increase the number of digits, the task
rapidly becomes intractable. The largest number that has been
factorised as a mathematical challenge, i.e. a number whose factors
were secretly chosen by mathematicians in order to present a
challenge to other mathematicians, had 129 digits. No one can even
conceive of how one might factorise, say, thousand-digit numbers by
classical means; the computation would take many times as long the
estimated age of the universe. In contrast, quantum computers could
factor thousand-digit numbers in a fraction of a second --- and the
execution time would grow only as the cube of the number of
digits. Now, the intractability of factorisation underpins the security of
what are currently the most trusted methods of encryption, in
particular of the RSA (Rivest, Shamir and Adleman) system, which is
often used to protect electronic bank accounts (Public key
cryptography was originally discovered by Ellis and Cocks of the
British Government Communication Headquarters GCHQ). Once a quantum
factorisation engine (a special-purpose quantum computer for
factorising large numbers) is built, all such cryptographic systems
will become insecure. Indeed, in one sense they are already insecure:
any RSA-encrypted message that is recorded today will become readable
moments after the first quantum factorisation engine is switched on,
and therefore RSA cannot be used for securely transmitting any
information that will still need to be secret on that happy day. Admittedly, that day is probably decades away, but can anyone
The potential power of quantum phenomena to perform computations
was first adumbrated in a talk given by Richard Feynman at the First
Conference on the Physics of Computation held at MIT in 1981
[5]. He observed that it appeared to be impossible in general
to simulate a evolution of a quantum system on a classical computer
in an efficient way. The computer simulation of quantum evolution
typically involves an exponential slowdown in time, compared with the
natural evolution, essentially because the amount of classical
information required to describe the evolving quantum state is
exponentially larger than that required to describe the corresponding
classical system with a similar accuracy. (To predict interference
effects, one has to describe all the system’s exponentially many
counterparts in parallel universes.) However, instead of viewing this
intractability as an obstacle, Feynman regarded it as an opportunity.
He pointed out that if it requires that much computation to work out
what will happen in a multi-particle interference experiment, then
the very act of setting up such an experiment and measuring the
outcome is equivalent to performing a complex computation. Quantum computation has already been used, in simple cases, to
predict the behaviour of quantum systems. At some point in the
foreseeable future, they will take on a new and irreplaceable role in
the structure of science, for the ability of science to make
predictions will then depend on quantum computation. The foundations
of the quantum theory of computation (which must now be regarded as
the theory of computation --- Turing’s classical theory being
only an approximation) were laid down in 1985 when David Deutsch of
the University of Oxford published a crucial theoretical paper in
which he described a universal quantum computer [6]. Since
then, the hunt has been on for interesting things for quantum
computers to do, and at the same time, for the scientific and
technological advances that could allow us to build quantum
computers. In principle we know how to build a quantum computer; we start
with simple quantum logic gates and connect them up into quantum
networks [7]. A quantum logic gate, like a classical gate, is a very simple
computing device that performs one elementary quantum operation,
usually on two qubits, in a given time. Of course, quantum logic
gates differ from their classical counterparts in that they can
create, and perform operations, on quantum superpositions. However as the number of quantum gates in a network increases, we
quickly run into some serious practical problems. The more
interacting qubits are involved, the harder it tends to be to
engineer the interaction that would display the quantum interference.
Apart from the technical difficulties of working at single-atom and
single-photon scales, one of the most important problems is that of
preventing the surrounding environment from being affected by the
interactions that generate quantum superpositions. The more
components there are, the more likely it is that quantum information
will spread outside the quantum computer and be lost into the
environment, thus spoiling the computation. This process is called
Some physicists are pessimistic about the prospects of substantial
further progress in quantum computer technology. They believe that
decoherence will in practice never be reduced to the point where more
than a few consecutive quantum computational steps can be performed.
(This, incidentally, would already allow for some very useful
devices--- see the table below.) Other, more optimistic researchers
believe that practical quantum computers will appear in a matter of
years rather than decades. We tend towards the optimistic end of the
scale, partly because theory tells us that there is now no
However, the problems will not be solved in one fell swoop. The
current challenge is not to build a fully-fledged universal quantum
computer right away, but rather to move from the experiments in which
we merely observe quantum phenomena to experiments in which we can
control those phenomena in the necessary ways. Simple quantum logic
gates involving two qubits are being realised in laboratories in
Europe and U.S.A. The next decade should bring control over several
qubits and, without any doubt, we shall already begin to benefit from
our new way of harnessing nature. It is known, for instance, that
simple quantum networks can offer better frequency standards
[8]. Some possible milestones in the development of quantum
computer technology are shown in the table below. Type of hardware Number of qubits needed Number of steps before decoherence Status Quantum Cryptography 1 1 Already implemented Entanglement-based quantum cryptography 2 1 Demonstrated in lab Quantum controlled-NOT gate 2 1 Demonstrated in lab Composition of quantum gates 2 2 Demonstrated in lab Deutsch's algorithm 2 3 Demonstrated in NMR quantum computer Channel capacity doubling 2 2 Imminent Teleportation 3 2 Achieved intermittently Entanglement swapping 4 1 Achieved intermittently Repeating station for quantum cryptography A few A few Theory not yet complete Quantum simulations A few A few Simple cases demonstrated Grover;s algorithms with toy data 3+ 6+ Foreseeable Ultra-precise frequency standards A few A few Foreseeable Entanglement purification A few A few Shor's algorithms with toy data 16+ Hundreds+ Quantum factoring engine Hundreds Hundreds Universal quantum computer Thousands Thousands+ (the table was compiled in March 1998) When the physics of computation was first investigated
systematically in the 1970s, the main fear was that
quantum-mechanical effects might place fundamental bounds on the
accuracy with which physical objects could realise the properties of
bits, logic gates, the composition of operations, and so on, which
appear in the abstract and mathematicallysophisticated theory of
computation. Thus it was feared that the power and elegance of that
theory, its deep concepts such as computational universality, its
deep results such as Turing’s halting theorem, and the more
modern theory of complexity, might all be mere figments of pure
mathematics, not really relevant to anything in nature. Those fears have not only been proved groundless by the research
we have been describing, but also, in each case, the underlying
aspiration has been wonderfully vindicated to an extent that no one
even dreamed of just twenty years ago. As we have explained, quantum
mechanics, far from placing limits on what classical computations can
be performed in nature, permits them all, and in addition provides
whole new modes of computation, including algorithms that perform
tasks (such as perfectly secure public-key cryptography) that no
classical computer can perform at all. As far as the elegance of the
theory goes, researchers in the field have now become accustomed to
the fact that the real theory of computation hangs together better,
and fits in far more naturally with fundamental theories in other
fields, than its classical approximation could ever have been
expected to. Even at the simplest level, the very word
‘quantum’ means the same as the word ‘bit’ --- an
elementary chunk --- and this reflects the fact that fully classical
physical systems, being subject to the generic instability known as
‘chaos’, would not support digital computation at all (so
even Turing machines, the theoretical prototype of all classical
computers, were secretly quantum-mechanical all along!). The
Church-Turing hypothesis in the classical theory (that all
‘natural’ models of computation are essentially equivalent
to each other), was never proved. Its analogue in the quantum theory
of computation (the Turing Principle, that the universal quantum
computer can simulate the behaviour of any finite physical system)
was straightforwardly proved in Deutsch’s 1985 paper. A stronger
result (also conjectured but never proved in the classical case),
namely that such simulations can always be performed in a time that
is at most a polynomial function of the time taken for the physical
evolution, has since been proved in the quantum case. Among the many ramifications of quantum computation for apparently
distant fields of study are its implications for both the philosophy
and the practice of mathematical proof. Performing any computation
that provides a definite output is tantamount to Experimental and theoretical research in quantum computation is
now attracting increasing attention from both academic researchers
and industry worldwide. The idea that nature can be controlled and
manipulated at the quantum level is a powerful stimulus to the
imagination of physicists and engineers. There is almost daily
progress in developing ever more promising technologies for realising
quantum computation and new quantum algorithms with various
advantages over their classical counterparts. There is potential here
for truly revolutionary innovation. The newly established Centre for
Quantum Computation at the University of Oxford has several WWW
pages and links devoted to quantum computation and cryptography. Some
of the deeper implications of quantum computing are discussed at
length in [1] Grover, L. K. "A Fast Quantum Mechanical Algorithm for
Database Search" Proceedings of the 28th Annual ACM Symposium on the
Theory of Computing, Philadelphia, (1996) pp. 212-219. [2] Brassard, G., Science vol. 275, p. 627 (1997). [3] Shor, P. "Algorithms for quantum computation: discrete
logarithms and factoring" Proceedings 35th Annual Symposium on
Foundations of Computer Science, Santa Fe, NM, USA, 20-22 Nov. 1994,
IEEE Comput. Soc. Press (1994) pp. 124-134. [4]. Wiesner, S. "Conjugate Coding" SIGACT News, Vol. 15,
1983, pp. 78-88; Brassard, G. and Bennett, C.H., Proceedings of the
IEEE International Conference on Computer Systems and Signal
Processing, 1984, p. 175 Ekert, A. "Quantum Cryptography Based on
Bell's Theorem" Physical Review Letters, Vol. 67 1991 pp.
661-663. [5] Feynman, R. P. "Simulating Physics with Computers"
International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 21 (1982) pp.
467-488. [6] Deutsch, D. "Quantum Theory, the Church-Turing
Principle, and the Universal Quantum Computer" Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond.
A400 (1985) pp. 97-117. [7] Deutsch, D. "Quantum computational networks"
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A (8 Sept.1989)
vol.425, no.1868, pp. 73-90. [8] Huelga, S.F., Macchiavello, C., Pellizzari, T., Ekert,
A.K., Plenio, M.B., and Cirac, J.I., Physical Review Letters (1998),
vol. 79, 3865.

**CQC
Introductions : Overview of Quantum Computing**

**Quantum
Computation***Physics World***A new way of harnessing
nature***quantum* technology must replace or supplement what we
have now, but it turns out that such technology can offer much more
than smaller and faster microprocessors. It can support entirely new
modes of computation, with new quantum algorithms that do not have
classical analogues. And more: the quantum theory of computation
plays an even more fundamental role in the scheme of things than its
classical predecessor did, so that anyone who seeks a fundamental
understanding of either physics or information processing must
incorporate its new insights into their world view.**From bits to qubits***either* in the transmitted beam H *or* in the reflected
beam V during any one run of this experiment. But that is not so
either. In fact the photon takes both paths at once, as can be
demonstrated with the help of the apparatus shown in Fig. 1b. Two
normal mirrors are placed as so that both paths intersect at a second
half—silvered mirror. With this setup we can observe the
astonishing, purely quantum phenomenon of *single-particle
interference*.

*always *strikes detector A
and *never* detector B.

*Fig.2. A sliver of glass
inserted into one of the two paths in the interferometer can
redirect photons from one detector to another. All photons
that enter the top interferometer strike detector A.. In the
bottom interferometer, the interference is modified by the
presence of the sliver of glass on the vertical path, and as
a result all photons end up in detector B. Thus something
that has happened on only one of the paths has, with
certainty, changed the final outcome of the experiment. This
effect is especially useful in quantum
computation*.*qubit*, can
be prepared in a superposition of its two logical states 0 and 1.
That is the sense in which a qubit can store both 0 and 1
simultaneously, in arbitrary proportions. But note that just as the
photon, if measured, will be detected on only one of the two paths,
so if the qubit is measured, only one of the two numbers it holds
will be detected, at random: not a very useful property in
itself.^{L}
numbers at once. A 250-qubit register --- essentially made of 250
atoms, say --- would be capable of holding more numbers
simultaneously than there are atoms in the known universe. (If
anything, this *understates* the amount of quantum information
that they hold, for in general, the elements of a superposition are
present in continuously variable proportions, each with its own phase
angle as well.) Even so, if we measure the register’s contents,
we will see only one of those numbers. However, now we can start
doing some non-trivial quantum computation, for once the register is
prepared in a superposition of many different numbers, we can perform
mathematical operations on all of them at once. For example, if the
qubits are atoms then suitably tuned laser pulses affect their
electronic states and evolve initial superpositions of encoded
numbers into different superpositions. During such an evolution each
number in the superposition is affected, so we are performing a
massive parallel computation. Thus a quantum computer can in a single
computational step perform the same mathematical operation on, say,
2^{L} different input numbers, and the result will be a
superposition of all the corresponding outputs. In order to
accomplish the same task any classical computer has to repeat the
computation 2^{L} times, or has to use 2^{L}
different processors working in parallel. In this way a quantum
computer offers an enormous gain in the use of computational
resources such as time and memory --- though only in certain types of
computation.**Quantum
algorithms**^{L} computations, the laws of physics only allow us to see
one of them. However, just as the single answer ‘A’ in the
experiment of Fig.2 depends on information that travelled along each
of two paths, quantum interference now allows us to obtain a single,
final result that depends logically on all 2^{L} of the
intermediate results. This is how a remarkable quantum algorithm
recently discovered by Lov Grover of AT&T’s Bell
Laboratories in New Jersey achieves the mind-boggling feat of
searching an unsorted list of N items in only square root N or so
steps [1]. Consider, for example, searching for a specific
telephone number in a directory containing a million entries, stored
in the computer’s memory in alphabetical order of names. It is
easily proved (and obvious) that no classical algorithm can improve
on the brute-force method of simply iscanning the entries one by one
until the given number is found, which will, on average, require
500,000 memory accesses. A quantum computer can examine all the
entries simultaneously, in the time of a single access. However, if
it is merely programmed to print out the result at that point, there
is no improvement over the classical algorithm: only one of the
million computational paths (i.e. one in a million universes) would
have checked the entry we are looking for, so there would be a
probability of only one in a million that we would obtain that
information if we measured the computer’s state. But if we leave
that quantum information in the computer, unmeasured, a further
quantum operation can cause that information to affect other paths,
just as in the simple interference experiment described above. In
this way the information about the desired entry is spread, through
quantum interference, to more universes. It turns out that if this
interference generating operation is repeated about 1000 times, (in
general, square root of N times) the information about which entry
contains the desired number will be accessible to measurement with
probability 0.5 --- i.e. it will have spread to more than half the
universes. Therefore repeating the entire algorithm a few more times
will find the desired entry with a probability overwhelmingly close
to 1. In addition to finding the entry with a given property,
variations on Grover’s algorithm can also find the largest or
smallest value in a list, or the modal value, and so on, so it is a
very versatile searching tool. However, in practice, searching a
physical database is unlikely to become a major application of
Grover’s algorithm --- at least so long as classical memory
remains cheaper than quantum memory. For since the operation of
transferring a database from classical to quantum memory (bits to
qubits) would itself require O(N) steps, Grover’s algorithm
would improve search times by at best a constant factor, which could
also be achieved by classical parallel processing. Where
Grover’s algorithm would really come into its own is in
algorithmic searches --- that is, searches of lists that are not
stored in memory but are themselves generated on the fly by a
computer program.^{56} =7 x10^{16} possible
keys. If these can be checked at a rate of, say, one million keys per
second, a classical computer would need over a thousand years to
discover the correct key while a quantum computer using Grover’s
algorithm would do it in less than four minutes. By some strange
coincidence, several of the superior features of quantum computers
have applications in cryptography. One of them is Grover’s
algorithm. Another is the quantum algorithm discovered in 1994 by
Peter Shor, also of AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in New Jersey,
for factorising large integers efficiently [3]. Here the
difference in performance between the quantum and classical
algorithms is even more spectacular.*prove*, or give any reliable assurance, that it is? Confidence
in the slowness of technological progress is all that the security of
the RSA system now rests on. What quantum computation takes away with
one hand, it returns, at least partially, with the other. One of the
simplest types of quantum computation—a type which is now
routinely carried out in the laboratory and may soon be a commercial
proposition --- is *quantum cryptography *[4]. The
reason why it is already feasible is that it requires only one qubit
and one quantum computational step at a time. It provides perfect
security because unlike all classical cryptography (except the
one-time pad) it relies on the laws of physics rather than on
ensuring that successful eavesdropping would require excessive
computational effort. Note, however, that existing systems have
limited range.**Building quantum
computers***decoherence*. Thus our task is to engineer sub-microscopic
systems in which qubits affect each other but not the
environment.*fundamental *obstacle in the way, partly because of the
astonishing talents and problem-solving abilities of the experimental
physicists now working on this project, and partly because optimism
makes things happen.**Milestones in the development of quantum computer
technology**

**Deeper
implications***proving* that
the observed output is one of the possible results of the given
computation. Since we can describe the computer’s operations
mathematically, we can always translate such a proof into the proof
of some mathematical theorem. This was the case classically too, but
in the absence of interference effects it is always possible to note
down the steps of the computation, and thereby produce a proof that
satisfies the classical definition: ‘a sequence of propositions
each of which is either an axiom or follows from earlier propositions
in the sequence by the standards rules of inference’. Now we
must leave that definition behind. Henceforward, a proof must be
regarded as a process --- the computation itself, not a record of all
its steps --- for we must accept that in future, quantum computers
will prove theorems by methods that neither a human brain nor any
other arbiter will ever be able to check step-by-step, since if the
‘sequence of propositions’ corresponding to such a proof
were printed out, the paper would fill the observable universe many
times over.**Concluding
remarks****Further
reading***The Fabric of Reality* by David Deutsch (Allen Lane,
The Penguin Press, 1997). The discovery of public key cryptography by
GCHQ is described on the CESG web pages. **Bibliography**

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