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Japan Leading Quest for First Quantum Computer
May 3, 2004
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A quantum computer, dubbed the ultimate computer that can process information at a speed 100 million times faster than a supercomputer, is attracting global attention.

If the quantum computer is actually produced, there will be an "information communication revolution" because it can also be applied to cipher technology, industry analysts said.

NTT Corp. and NEC Corp. are leading other companies in developing the quantum computer, but analysts said it will take several decades before their research can be put into practical use.

"Shor's Algorithm," a method developed in 1994 by AT&T scientist Peter Shor for using the quantum computer, sent a shockwave throughout the industry worldwide. Enterprises in the U.S. launched full-scale research, believing that the development of such a computer was imperative.

Those in Europe and Japan have followed suit. In Canada, a venture company was created to develop it.

Existing computers store information as bits, denoted as 0s or 1s. The quantum computer, however, can store both 0s and 1s within the equivalent of a single bit, called a qubit, which means the amount of information that can be encoded dramatically rises.

Further increases in the number of qubits would enable a sharp expansion in the ability of information processing, and the quantum computer can resolve factorization in 1/1 millionth of a second, against 10,000 years required by existing computers.

Weather forecasts and the development of medicines requiring massive calculations can also be processed in a short time.
NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, whose quantum computer research is considered the most advanced in the world, has confirmed the superposition of quantum states -- the coexistence of 0s and 1s in a single quantum bit.

To realize the superposition, extremely complicated and detailed technology is required, with the institute's director, Hideaki Takayanagi, saying, "We are struggling every day."

The movement of more than 1,000 bits is needed to realize the quantum computer. "Two or three bits are possible in five years. Several decades will be needed to have more than 1,000 bits," noted Mr. Takayanagi, who is said to be a researcher in Japan most likely to win the Nobel Prize.

Another problem is the budget for the research. The government cannot earmark sufficient funds for the research because of its severe fiscal situation.

Only NTT and NEC can conduct such research because other major manufacturers are undergoing restructuring. "At this rate, basic technology will be held (by the U.S. and Europe)," Mr. Takayanagi said. (The Japan Times)

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