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Intel chases quantum computing breakthrough with silicon processor

Intel faces major competition in the quantum computing space, with the likes of IBM, Google and Microsoft also looking to bring this potetially transformational technology to life.

By Tom Ball

In the quest to elevate quantum computing from its nascent status, Intel is exploring a new technique involving silicon quantum processors generating spin qubits.

One major breakthrough here is the discovery that silicon is viable for processor production and that existing techniques and expertise can be applied for manufacturing, a vital bridge for making the technology more mainstream.

At the core of the project are spin qubits, architecture made available via silicon that could provide benefits on the road to furthering quantum computing. Quantum power is delivered by this architecture from the spin of a single electron that is controlled by microwave pulses.

Intel chases quantum computing breakthrough with silicon processor

Some of the benefits include their small size compared to superconducting qubits, as well as being extremely strong. Spin qubits have been found to remain coherent for longer, a feature of vital importance when working towards a commercial application of the technology that would need to leverage millions of qubits.

Their resilience is also noticed in their ability to operate in high temperatures, able to function in 1 kelvin, significantly warmer than the sometimes 20 millikelvin conditions required by their superconducting counterparts.

Intel believes it can have the edge in this department due to its tried and tested experience in traditional silicon transistor technologies. The company is taking a multipronged approach to quantum computing development, investing in the more common superconducting method as well as the newer spin qubit concept.

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While this work has presented some potentially breakthrough findings, Intel is not without competition in the quantum computing space more generally. The likes of IBM and Google are also firmly in the running, forging ahead alongside Intel in the development and furtherance of the technology that is widely thought could be disruptive.

IBM has hit the 50 qubit benchmark required for unparalleled power, but the processor is a prime example of the immense fragility of the system. The process requires a strict 10 miliKelvin temperature to function; this temperature is equivalent to -273 Celsius.

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