7 ways to win the quantum race
- Superconducting uses an electrical current, flowing through special semiconductor chips cooled to near absolute zero, to produce computational “qubits.” Google, IBM, and Intel are pursuing this approach, which has so far been the front-runner.
- Ion trap relies on charged atoms that are manipulated by lasers in a vacuum, which helps to reduce noisy interference that can contribute to errors. Industrial giant Honeywell is betting on this technique. So is IonQ, a startup with backing from Alphabet.
- Neutral Atom Similar to the ion-trap method, except it uses, you guessed it, neutral atoms. Physicist Mikhail Lukin’s lab at Harvard is a pioneer.
- Annealing designed to find the lowest-energy (and therefore speediest) solutions to math problems. Canadian firm D-Wave has sold multimillion-dollar machines based on the idea to Google and NASA. They’re fast, but skeptics question whether they qualify as “quantum.”
- Silicon spin uses single electrons trapped in transistors. Intel is hedging its bets between the more mature superconducting qubits and this younger, equally semiconductor-friendly method.
- Topological uses exotic, highly stable quasi-particles called “anyons.” Microsoft deems this unproven moonshot as the best candidate in the long run, though the company has yet to produce a single one.
- Photonics uses light particles sent through special silicon chips. The particles interact with one another very little (good), but can scatter and disappear (bad). Three-year-old stealth startup Psi Quantum is tinkering away on this idea.