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IBM Gets Small - Big Blue researchers are trying to move quantum computing from theory to reality.
Business2.com ^ | 12/05/2001 | Erick Schonfeld,

Posted on 12/11/2001 8:06:30 AM PST by Straight Vermonter

Most of us take it for granted that computers will get faster, cheaper, and more powerful every year. The bedrock of the Digital Age is Moore's Law, which observes that microprocessors double in power every 18 months as the transistors that make up microchips become smaller and smaller -- which means that more can be packed onto chips of the same size.

One of the most basic elements of a transistor is a feature called a gate. Today, gates are made up of about 1,000 atoms. If Moore's Law were to continue unabated, in 20 to 40 years those gates would reach the realm where single atoms are used to store and process information -- the physical limits of miniaturization. That would mark the end of both Moore's Law (if something else does not kill it first, as is more likely) and the increases in processing power that have come with it. So researchers are now scrambling to figure out how to make quantum computers, whose fundamental parts work at the atomic level.

There's nothing new about the ideas behind quantum computing.

In 1959, at a conference of the American Physical Society, physicist Richard Feynman described a set of famous challenges that would have to be overcome for nanoscale computing to become a reality. Feynman dared the assembled scientists to produce several technologies that seemed far-fetched at the time. Among them: a microscope that could look at individual atoms, a device that could manipulate those individual atoms, a computer with wires no more than 100 atoms wide, and circuits that could take advantage of the quantized energy levels of individual atoms. The first three were accomplished in the 1980s and 1990s, but Feynman's final challenge has not yet been met.

Quantum computers would manipulate the different quantum states of electrons, such as their energy levels or their nuclear spin, to perform calculations and store data. They could also be designed to operate on atomic nuclei or photons. Quantum computers exist only in theory today, but at IBM's Almaden research lab, set on a stunning hilltop just south of San Jose, scientists are trying to meet Feynman's last challenge. During a recent visit, I met with two scientists, Don Eigler and Bill Risk, who are taking different approaches to building computational structures out of individual atoms and molecules. Their work hints at how quantum computers may one day operate.

Eigler was the first scientist to overcome one of Feynman's other challenges -- to manipulate atoms one by one -- by laying out xenon atoms to spell "I-B-M" in 1989. The ability to precisely place atoms one at a time is the key to understanding the physics of nanoscale structures. Eigler is still moving atoms around. Ponytailed and serene, he walks through the Almaden research halls with his furry, lumbering dog, a Leonburger called Argon. "The name of the game is to make things smaller," he says.

Right now Eigler is trying to figure out how the wave nature of electrons comes into play when you build structures at microscopic levels. State-of-the-art semiconductors have transistors and circuits with elements that are 130 nanometers (0.13 microns) wide. Somewhere below the 100-nanometer range, when these elements become as small as individual molecules and atoms, quantum physics will start to wield its influence.

One of Eigler's experiments involves precisely placing iron atoms one by one in an elliptical ring called a quantum corral. When he places a magnetic cobalt atom on one of the foci of the elliptical ring, an interesting effect occurs: The cobalt atom creates a magnetic disturbance not just in the location where it is placed, but also at the other focus of the ellipse, which is an empty spot across the ring.

This "quantum mirage,"as Eigler has dubbed it, is similar to an acoustic phenomenon familiar to visitors of the U.S. Capitol. If you stand near a particular column inside the dome, you can hear every word whispered at a corresponding spot across the hall. John Quincy Adams used his knowledge of this effect to spy on political opponents; Eigler, on the other hand, thinks the quantum mirage may be a new way to transport information within microchips. Instead of moving electrons around in a linear fashion -- one at a time down millions of crisscrossing wires -- you could change the resonance of an electron in one place and trigger an effect somewhere else.

"We're using the electrons as waves instead of as particles," Eigler explains. "You can always send waves through each other." In other words, using Eigler's approach, multiple channels of information could be transmitted through the same physical space. Chips that take advantage of these quantum properties could eliminate or relieve the contemporary need to pack so many wires onto each chip.

Another Almaden scientist is Bill Risk, the manager of IBM's Quantum Information group. In classical computing, bits are represented by ones or zeroes. There is a one-to-one relationship between the number of bits and the information they can represent. But in quantum computing, bits are represented by the quantum states of electrons, atoms, molecules, or photons. These states are not binary in nature. A quantum bit, or qubit (pronounced "cue-bit"), can simultaneously embody 80 percent of one state and 20 percent of another, for example, or any other combination.

And unlike in classical computing, there is an exponential relationship between the number of qubits and the information they can represent. Taken together, all of this means that a quantum computer could be exponentially more powerful than the most powerful binary machines. For instance, figuring out the prime factors of large numbers -- the basis of modern public-key cryptography -- is a particularly computation-intensive task. The fastest computer in existence today would take 10 billion years to factor a 400-digit number, whereas a quantum computer could theoretically do it in 3 years.

Drafting the blueprints for such a computer is the philosophers' stone of our day. "One approach," Risk suggests, "is to use molecules as individual quantum computers." The benefits of this approach are obvious. "Nature makes every one identical," he notes, "and the atoms that represent quantum bits are precisely positioned and have precisely controlled interactions through chemical bonds."

Risk's group is creating molecular cocktails in the lab to perform quantum computations. One of his former scientists, Isaac Chuang (now at MIT), was the first to demonstrate this type of quantum computer. At IBM, Chuang designed molecules with three, five, and seven atoms exhibiting nuclear spin, each of which represented a qubit. He put a billion billion of these molecules into a solution, aligned their nuclear spins with a magnetic field, exposed them to radio waves, and then changed their spins en masse, which he detected with a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. In this way, all the molecules performed the same calculation simultaneously, and he was able to poll them for the result.

Chuang proved that such quantum calculations can actually be performed. But as Risk acknowledges, "Reality is setting in among experimentalists. The quantum states are very delicate and easily degraded or destroyed by whatever is surrounding the quantum bits."

Figuring out ways to manipulate those states will be the key to unlocking the promise of quantum computing. But for scientists like Eigler and Risk to do that they must continue to think small.


TOPICS: Front Page News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
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1 posted on 12/11/2001 8:06:30 AM PST by Straight Vermonter
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To: lavaroise
Ping
2 posted on 12/11/2001 8:07:00 AM PST by Straight Vermonter
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To: Straight Vermonter
The knowledge and mastering of this technology will result in human beings on this planet living much, much longer, happier, healthier lives...

Much longer...

3 posted on 12/11/2001 8:20:25 AM PST by Ferris
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To: Straight Vermonter
Good article!
4 posted on 12/11/2001 8:20:51 AM PST by jimkress
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To: Straight Vermonter
Actually, I'm satisfied with the gigabyete speeds we have now. What we need is a tightly written DOS type operating system where everything is not interlocked and installation isn't horrible. Sixty-four bit processors would be icing on the cake.
5 posted on 12/11/2001 8:25:40 AM PST by RLK
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To: Straight Vermonter
The potential of quantum computers is for all practical purposes infinite. Computers today work off of two quantum states of the electron (positive and negative) I believe there are 32 (2 to the fifth) known quantum states of the electron. If a method could be divised to utilize these quantum states it would not increase computing capacity 32 times. It would increase it to the 32nd POWER. Example: if you weigh 100 pounds and your weight increases 32 times you would weigh 3200 pounds. If it increases by a power of 32 you would weigh 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000lbs. Imagine what computers could do if you increased their computing ability that much.
6 posted on 12/11/2001 8:27:01 AM PST by AUgrad
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To: Straight Vermonter
The problem in developing new devices is basically the wiring to connect the components.
7 posted on 12/11/2001 8:27:57 AM PST by RLK
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To: AUgrad
"Imagine what computers could do if you increased their computing ability that much."

Sorry. No can do. My head exploded after looking at that numeral with the 64 zeroes.

8 posted on 12/11/2001 8:30:00 AM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts
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To: AUgrad
Sounds like that All-American sprinter Stephen Hawking may be right. At that point, maybe the machines would take over?

I guess no tinfoil hat could protect you then. Though, the power of medicine would be awesome.

9 posted on 12/11/2001 8:47:44 AM PST by mattdono
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To: RLK
Would the components HAVE to be connected by wires? What could be an alternative? Would something organic work, like carbon?
10 posted on 12/11/2001 8:52:23 AM PST by redhead
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To: Ferris
This kind of stuff must really piss off the terrorists that hate any kind of technological progress.
11 posted on 12/11/2001 8:59:23 AM PST by Warren
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To: mattdono
Would A I follow? THEN the computers could take over.
12 posted on 12/11/2001 9:00:16 AM PST by Warren
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To: Straight Vermonter
Just to be clear ... there is miniaturization or reducing the size down to atomic sizes, and there is quantum computing which is the use of new algorithms which take advantage of superposition. Currently we:

1. Can't miniaturize that small.
2. Can't build a computer capable of running a quantum algorithm (bigger than 4 qubits)
3. Can write quantum algorithms.
13 posted on 12/11/2001 9:03:14 AM PST by gjenkins
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To: Warren
Would A I follow? THEN the computers could take over.

I don't believe man will ever create a machine to compare to the sophistication and complexity of the human brain.

14 posted on 12/11/2001 9:04:16 AM PST by AUgrad
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To: Straight Vermonter
Quantum foam
Take me home....

The best novel I've read this year is Michael Crichton's Timeline. It deals with quantum computing, but you don't need to understand it to completely enjoy the book.

15 posted on 12/11/2001 9:04:41 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Ferris
The knowledge and mastering of this technology will result in human beings on this planet living much, much longer, happier, healthier lives... You must have been riding the wheel for too long. What's the connection?
16 posted on 12/11/2001 9:09:47 AM PST by TopQuark
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To: Warren
This kind of stuff must really piss off the terrorists that hate any kind of technological progress.

Exactly...

But if you see the big picture, then you know those terrorists exist everywhere, not just over there...

Increasing conscious knowledge of existence, through free enterprise business, is the key to everlasting conscious human happiness on planet earth...

17 posted on 12/11/2001 9:12:15 AM PST by Ferris
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To: AUgrad
It wouldn't need to match the human brain. Perhaps it would just be fixated on taking over the human oppressors. Colossus & Guardian, from 'Collussus, the Forbin project'(good movie)
18 posted on 12/11/2001 9:12:44 AM PST by Warren
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To: Ferris
"Increasing conscious knowledge of existence, through free enterprise business, is the key to everlasting conscious human happiness on planet earth"
Excellent point, but religious people would never allow it.
19 posted on 12/11/2001 9:15:06 AM PST by Warren
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To: Warren
Sorry, not familiar with it.
20 posted on 12/11/2001 9:17:36 AM PST by AUgrad
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To: TopQuark
What's the connection? Here's the connection...

Through the use of quantum computers, massive advances in technology will occur...

Those advances in technology will no doubt be used in the medical field for advanced medicines/gene/organ/transplant or creation or therapy ability...

Human consciousness through voluntary business will use these new technologies to vastly increase your (and your children's) ability to live a much longer, healthier, happier life...

That type of technology will need quantum computing in it's corner...

It will most assuredly get it...

21 posted on 12/11/2001 9:20:48 AM PST by Ferris
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To: Ferris
ability to live a much longer, Isn't it limited by the genetic code, say?
22 posted on 12/11/2001 9:22:20 AM PST by TopQuark
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To: Warren
Excellent point, but religious people would never allow it.

Those types should never be granted the power to stop it...

23 posted on 12/11/2001 9:23:46 AM PST by Ferris
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To: TopQuark
ability to live a much longer, Isn't it limited by the genetic code, say?

Human consciousness will, over time, learn about the genetic code of the human being (through advanced quantum computing), and will then learn to control that code to allow human consciousness to live a longer, helathier, life on this planet...

Human consciousness is about to learn that 80-100 revolutions of the earth around the sun is an infinitely short period of time...

Conscious life will use this technology to increase the time of it's own existence through the learning of, and then controlling of, nature...

24 posted on 12/11/2001 9:30:47 AM PST by Ferris
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To: mattdono
If quantum computing becomes a reality, medicine will become meaningless. Each one of us can transfer all our memories( from childhood to our present state), personalities, and the soul(?) into a chip, and discard our fragile bodies. That's why I don't beleive quantum computing will ever become a reality. I'm afraid we will blow ourselves up, before the 1st quantum chip is a reality. There's just too many bin ladens running around.
25 posted on 12/11/2001 9:38:33 AM PST by desertcry
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To: Ferris
That well may be, but those evolved will no longer be homo sapience.
26 posted on 12/11/2001 9:38:58 AM PST by TopQuark
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To: TopQuark
Of course they will...

They will be conscious human beings exactly like you and me...

27 posted on 12/11/2001 9:54:39 AM PST by Ferris
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To: Ferris
They will be conscious human beings exactly like you and me... I can see that you are excited about the possibilities. You are right to feel that, but please slow down just a bit. The question as to what constitutes a species is not a trivial one. With one gene "corrected," most would say that a human remains a human. With two, probably so as well. If you substitute half of the genes, you clearly deal with a different species.

Most certainly not "like you and I." Thanks for writing. Keep looking up.

28 posted on 12/11/2001 10:10:44 AM PST by TopQuark
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To: AUgrad
Quantum computers are just one of the potential uses for this technology. I'm chomping at the bit for nanorooters to swim through my arteries and clean out all the by products of my self indulgent lifestyle.
BTW...ROLL TIDE! ;^)

29 posted on 12/11/2001 10:19:49 AM PST by 6ppc
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To: 6ppc
BTW...ROLL TIDE! ;^)

A big WAR EAGLE back at ya.

30 posted on 12/11/2001 10:24:40 AM PST by AUgrad
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To: TopQuark
If you substitute half of the genes, you clearly deal with a different species.

The entire goal is about preserving one's consciousness, or "I-ness"... The sense of self...

I'm not saying that half of our genes will need to be "substituted" to eliminate disease...

Replacing genes may not be the best route...

However it happens, the end result is that your own conscious life will get to live much longer...

Consciousness grows toward life and knowledge, not aging and death...

Peace...

31 posted on 12/11/2001 10:27:50 AM PST by Ferris
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To: Ferris
The entire goal whose goal? is about preserving one's consciousness, or "I-ness"... The sense of self...

As I said earlier, keep looking up. And yet, you will be well advised to read about and reflect on these matters a bit more. You will discover that you plug in arbtrary, important, far reaching and extremely dangerous assumptions here. This kind of love of mankind is what led to the gratest atrocities of the XX century.

When you advance notions, the onus is on you to exrecise care. You don't. I am not telling you, of course, which conslusions you should reach. But it is your duty --- both to your "I-ness" and others --- to exercise care.

Consciousness grows toward life and knowledge, not aging and death...

This is patently false. In behavioral sciences, such "logic" is referred to as selective processing and fact retention.

Everything you said can serve as worthy hypotheses for the begining of the journey. The conviction you exhibit, however, is yet unfounded.

Since this subject matter does not interest me as much, I will not be continuing on this thread. Please do not be offended.

32 posted on 12/11/2001 10:38:38 AM PST by TopQuark
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To: desertcry
Hear, hear!

I think that there is a formal theory that discusses this dynamic. I don't think it is entropy, but it is something to that effect: advanced civilization are predisposed to self-destruction.

However, here's three interesting questions:

1. If that is true, doesn't that necessarily invalidate Darwin's theory of evolution?
2. If we evolve, how could we be predisposed to anything, per se?
3. Doesn't that leave the future to be truly untold?

Has anyone hear read the book "Zen Physics" by David Darling? It is an interesting blend of physics and consciousness. If that transference of consciousness were possible that would mean immortality, right? This book looks at some of these questions. It is out of print now, but it is a fascinating read. Pretty heady, but fascinating.

33 posted on 12/11/2001 11:45:54 AM PST by mattdono
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To: redhead
If you are goint to have .001 micron devices, you will need .001 size wires and pathways on the chip to connect the devices. Aside from the difficulty in fabricating the wiresm there is greater chance of crosstalk between wires or pathways as they become closer. There is also a problem with stray radiation ionizing a small device and producing a temporary malfunction of the device.

Right now we are making transistor devices at .25 microns, which is 25 times smaller than a human red blood cell. The devices are on a plane surface. The real trick is to have transistors three dimensionally in the silicon or galium arsenide material. Once that is done we will see the equivalent of 20 one-gig clock speed computers in a volume the size of a pack of cigarettes.

I used to do a lot of technical/scientific computing and will be returning to it. There are few present limitations in present one-gig desktops. The problem is in the sloppiness of the operating systems etc.

34 posted on 12/11/2001 11:59:44 AM PST by RLK
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To: mattdono
It is indeed an exciting thought to be able to transfer our thought, and being to a chip. Consider just one point of the many thousands of possibilities: War will be purely fought in the virtual space, and the weapons are virus. This could be a more scary environment than our present state. Virtual virus can mutate much faster than the material ones.
35 posted on 12/11/2001 12:15:34 PM PST by desertcry
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To: RLK
"Right now we are making transistor devices at .25 microns"

Here's an update for you. As of today TSMC has a .18 process available that was first defined in '98 and became commercially available in '99. I'm not sure what the smallest process is as of right now, but I would not be at all surprised to hear that Intel or IBM was fabbing circuits with gates at .12 or even .08 microns. The .25 micron process is so obsolete that I'm not sure TSMC even supports it any more, although I think some other fabs do.

36 posted on 12/11/2001 12:17:22 PM PST by Billy_bob_bob
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To: All
So, I can still play solitaire on this thing right? RIGHT!!??
37 posted on 12/11/2001 12:33:42 PM PST by amadeus
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To: Billy_bob_bob
There is a time lag. According to an Intel course I took, .75 microns was being implemented in 93. By 96-97 the industry was moving to .5 microns. At the present, many, perhaps most, high end processors are at .25 microns.
38 posted on 12/11/2001 2:43:22 PM PST by RLK
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To: RLK
Right now we are making transistor devices at .25 microns

We have been manufacturing .18 micron devices for over a year. .25 was nearly 3 years ago.

39 posted on 12/11/2001 3:40:13 PM PST by Straight Vermonter
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To: Ferris
Those types should never be granted the power to stop it...

Ferris-Hitler junior?

You're one scary dude!

I pray to God that types like you never get any political power.

40 posted on 12/11/2001 6:07:34 PM PST by lockeliberty
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To: Straight Vermonter
We have been manufacturing .18 micron devices for over a year. .25 was nearly 3 years ago.

-------------------------

If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. I wasn't aware the changeover existed except in selected high speed devices.

41 posted on 12/11/2001 7:45:16 PM PST by RLK
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