INFOTECH

Pentagon Wants Off-the-Charts Computing Speeds

4/1/2011
By Eric Beidel
The Pentagon is funding basic research that could make the current generation of supercomputers seem like snails.

The Defense Department awarded researchers based at the University of Pittsburgh a five-year, $7.5 million grant to build the foundation for a quantum supercomputer, a machine that can harness more power than all of the world’s current computers combined.

“The term quantum supercomputing is almost a misnomer,” said Jeremy Levy, a physics and astronomy professor leading the efforts. “Any kind of quantum computer is by its nature so much faster at solving certain types of problems that the word ‘super’ doesn’t do it justice.”

There are no reliable quantum computers yet. Levy’s team will attempt to create supercomputing semiconductors that will allow for a quantum level of memory, simulation and transfer of information.

The biggest challenge is overcoming “decoherence,” which refers to the delicate nature of quantum systems performing calculations. If they are disturbed and lead to errors, quantum machines become useless, Levy explained.

Quantum computing could help with an infamous problem involving the factorization of large numbers. Internet security is founded upon basic equations like 15 = 3x5, but with much larger numbers, Levy said.

“If you imagine a 400-digit number, which is the product of two 200-digit prime numbers, then the time taken to multiply them together is almost nothing,” he said. “But to factor them would take all of the computers on the planet longer than the age of the universe. A quantum computer would take very little time to perform the same task.”

Topics: Infotech

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