Intel is turning its attention to quantum computing through a 10-year collaboration with a Dutch university and a research body, which will see the chip firm invest $50m to help crack the conundrum.
The company announced the collaborative relationship with QuTech, the quantum research institute of the Delft University of Technology, and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research to advance the pace of development in quantum computing, which has seen relatively little progress despite years of research.
Quantum computing holds the promise of enormously accelerating some calculations, as the process revolves around quantum bits (qubits) that can be in a superposition of states, theoretically enabling multiple calculations to be performed at the same time.
The potential speed of quantum computing devices will enable some applications that are currently too complex for conventional computer systems, but could also cause a major upheaval in the security world by making it possible to crack modern encryption algorithms.
However, researchers have been working at quantum computing for more than 30 years, and so far have managed only to produce systems that operate with a handful of qubits at a time in laboratory conditions. The industry will need to find a way to scale this up to make a commercially viable quantum computer.
“A fully functioning quantum computer is at least a dozen years away, but the practical and theoretical research efforts we’re announcing today mark an important milestone in the journey to bring it closer to reality,” said Mike Mayberry, Intel vice president and managing director of Intel Labs.
Intel aims to extend the Delft University’s physics expertise and quantum computing research efforts by bringing advanced manufacturing, electronics and architectural expertise to the table gained from years of manufacturing semiconductors.
In particular, a combination of advanced physics and specialised electronics will be required to reach any kind of breakthrough, according to Mayberry.
“While qubit development has been the focus of quantum computing research to date, low-temperature electronics will be required to connect, control and measure multiple qubits, and this is where we can contribute. Our collaboration with QuTech will explore quantum computing breakthroughs that could influence the industry overall,” he said.
Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich hailed the move in a blog post, saying that he believes his firm can make a difference.
“Why am I so confident? Because this is what we do best. This research is on the cutting edge of silicon, architecture and software. Intel’s entire history has been built on driving innovations in the very leading edge of all three of these,” he wrote.
“Quantum computing holds the promise of solving complex problems that are practically insurmountable today, changing the world for the better. That’s a technology I think we’ll all be incredibly proud to play a part in developing.”
However, $50m is not an especially large investment for what is potentially the next major step forward in computing.
IBM, in comparison, announced last year an investment of $3bn over five years into future technologies, including quantum computing. Intel also led a group of investors in pouring $100m into OpenStack firm Mirantis last month.