Dario Gil, Senior Vice President and Director of Research for International Business Machines, came to Cornell University to give the Spring 2023 Colloquium, “What’s Next in Quantum Computing,” on Feb. 7.
Coined in the 1980’s by Prof. Richard Feynman, physics, quantum computing is one of the areas of application from quantum information science — a relatively new field that combines the theory of quantum mechanics, the study of physics at the scale of atoms or smaller, with information science. Quantum information science has many potential applications in areas such as cryptography, the way in which computers keep information safe.
IBM has been working on building quantum computers that are more robust and user-friendly by increasing the amount of quantum bits in the processor and improving hardware efficiency. The company has also made its quantum computers available to the public through Qiskit, an open-source development kit. Qiskit allows researchers and developers to experiment with quantum computing by testing code without having to build their own quantum computers.
In his talk, Gil discussed the future of quantum computing and the field’s intersection with classical computing and machine learning.
“If I were to summarize it very briefly, I would say that what’s next in computing is this idea of bits plus neurons plus qubits coming together,” Gil said in the talk. “The convergence of these areas is going to be the basis of the next computing architecture that is going to touch every aspect of our life.”
Bits are units of data used in classical computing that can only have values of 0 or 1, while quantum bits, or qubits, are units of quantum information that can be linear combinations of 0 and 1. These units of data provide the foundation for computing and information science.
Gil emphasized that quantum computing is not just a faster version of classical computing; instead, it represents a new category of computing that is expanding and moving forward by specializing in problems like protein folding.
“ [Classical computers and quantum computers are] going to work in concert,” Gil said. “They’re going to be complementary to one another.”
Cornell has been a hub for groundbreaking research in quantum information science, with Prof. Gregory Fuchs, applied engineering physics, being one of the leading researchers.
“[The University] has really been enjoying a very exciting explosion in quantum information research over the past couple of years,” Fuchs said. “There has been an initiative on campus to really identify quantum information sciences as a priority area for research.”
Fuchs noted that Cornell has experienced significant growth in quantum information research over the past few years.
“There’s an active interest in hiring, and bringing new people in lots of different areas and lots of different research interests to help continue to develop this community,” Fuchs said.
The University has also introduced new courses to enable students to learn about quantum information science. One of the first classes, Computer Science 4812: Quantum Information Processing, was developed by Emeritus Prof. David Mermin, physics. A similar course is now offered at an advanced level, taught by Prof. Paul Ginsparg, physics and information science.
Quantum computing classes that Cornell currently offers include Applied Engineering and Physics 2550: Engineering Quantum Information Hardware, Applied Engineering and Physics 3100: Introductory Quantum Computing — which is a new class on quantum information science with a focus on algorithms — and Electrical Computer Engineering 6960: Special Topics in Electrical and Computer Engineering, a class on quantum information theory.
“These [classes] have only been made available within the last couple of years. Some of them are being taught for the first time this semester,” Fuchs said.
Many professors at Cornell research quantum information — such as Fuchs, whose group has a long history of undergraduate research in quantum information and condensed matter physics. Cornell’s quantum theorists and experimentalists explore a variety of additional quantum topics, such as superconducting circuits, optics, color center-based qubits and trapped ions.
“It’s really an exciting time for a student to learn about quantum information sciences, ” Fuchs said.
Daniella Garcia-Loos Almeida is a staff writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Correction, March 2, 10:07 a.m.: A previous version of this article misspelled Dario Gil’s name. The Sun regrets this error, and the article has been corrected.