Christian Weedbrook and Xanadu achieve ‘big leap forward’ in quantum computer race

Xanadu Quantum Technologies, one of several companies trying to harness the ephemeral nature of quantum physics to revolutionize the computer industry, has hit an elusive milestone with a device that can outperform any supercomputer in the world at a specific task.

In a paper published Wednesday in the research journal Nature, the company described how its machine, a quantum computer dubbed Borealis, achieved “quantum advantage” – a term that means it delivered a result beyond the practical reach of a conventional computer system.

Specifically, Borealis provided a series of numbers with a specified range of probability in just 36 millionths of a second, an operation that would take the world’s most powerful supercomputers more than 9,000 years to match. The feat does not have immediate application, but scientists at Xanadu had to surmount several key challenges to accomplish it.

“That’s what we think is really great about this,” said Christian Weedbrook, a former A&S postdoctoral researcher and Xanadu’s founder and chief executive officer, during an interview at the company’s headquarters, where Borealis sits on the 29th floor of an office building overlooking downtown Toronto. “A lot of those breakthroughs are what we need in order to get to a quantum computer that is useful to customers.”

He said that the achievement “plants the flag for Canada” in the race to develop what is known as a universal quantum computer – a system that can, in future, be use to topple computational barriers in areas as diverse as cybersecurity, drug discovery, materials science, financial risk modelling and climate change mitigation.

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