The University of Bristol's School of Physics is to become the first establishment in the world to provide public access to a quantum computing system, in an effort to make the concept easier for people to grasp.
Traditional computing, as readers of this site will be very aware, works on a binary principle: the smallest unit of computer logic is the 'bit,' which can be either zero or one. The language may differ depending on what you're doing - false and true, off and on - but the bit remains the same. Some progress has been made in so-called trinary systems, which replace the bit with a three-state trit - jokingly claimed to have as its states yes, no and maybe - and there are historical dernary systems which counted in base-10 like humans, but binary is the predominant paradigm.
Quantum computing is a lot like binary, in that each bit of a quantum processor has a zero state and a one state. Unlike a traditional processor, however, a quantum processor holds each bit in 'superposition' - meaning it is both zero and one simultaneously
It's a concept that's hard to grasp, and which for many draws parallels with Erwin Schrödinger's famous thought experiment of the cat in the box with the nuclear decay-based poison trap: when the half-life of the decaying element has passed, the cat can be said to be both alive and dead - held in superposition - until such a time as the box is opened and an observer collapses the superposition into one of the two possibilities.
Superposition is the secret behind the potentially vast power of quantum processors: if you want to look for two outcomes in an equation, a traditional processor will have to perform the calculation twice; a quantum processor, by contrast, can give you both answers at the same time.
To exploit the possibilities offered by quantum computing requires education, which poses a problem: current quantum computers are extremely expensive, and require equipment - such as liquid nitrogen cooling jackets - out of the reach of home users. To help address this issue, the University of Bristol has announced plans to provide public access to its in-house two-bit quantum processor.
Building on the University's publicly-accessible quantum processor simulator
, the team is to provide access to to the quantum processor under the Qcloud project so that researchers can experiment with quantum superposition as well as quantum entanglement - the ability to create interference between two photons which links them even when they are physically apart, famously described by Albert Einstein as 'spooky action at a distance
Interested parties can use the Qcloud simulator now and pre-register for access to the processor itself ahead of the go-live date of the 20th of September on the official website