Google: We'll build this 'useful' quantum computer by the end of the decade

Google takes the wraps off its Quantum AI campus in California and shows off its plans for an 'error-corrected' quantum device.

Google has unveiled its new Quantum AI campus in Santa Barbara, California, where engineers and scientists will be working on its first commercial quantum computer – but that will probably be a decade way. 

The new campus has a focus on both software and hardware. On the latter front, these include its first quantum data center, quantum hardware research labs, and Google's own quantum processor chip fabrication facilities, says Erik Lucero, lead engineer for Google Quantum AI in a blogpost

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"Within the decade, Google aims to build a useful, error-corrected quantum computer. This will accelerate solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems, like sustainable energy and reduced emissions to feed the world's growing population, and unlocking new scientific discoveries, like more helpful AI," he said.

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On the software side, it's got the Cirq Python library for optimizing quantum circuits and running that code on quantum computers and quantum simulators, as well as the OpenFermion library for compiling quantum algorithms, and TensorFlow Quantum, a quantum machine learning library. 

According to Lucero, Google is "working to build an error-corrected quantum computer for the world."

"To get there, we must build the world's first "quantum transistor" – two error-corrected "logical qubits" performing quantum operations together – and then figure out how to tile hundreds to thousands of them to form the error-corrected quantum computer. That will take years," he writes. 

Google kicked off its Quantum AI Lab in 2014 as a collaboration with NASA Ames Research Center, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Jeff Dean, senior vice president of Google Research and Health, told CNET's Stephen Shankland that Google should be able to build an error-correcting qubit within two years. 

Qubits are the quantum equivalent of bits represented as 1s and 0s in classical computers, but can have a superposition of states where the qubit is both simultaneously. 

However, qubits are unstable, so Google is working on error-correction technology to let quantum computers work longer and, therefore, become useful for modeling and simulation tasks.  

"We are hoping the timeline will be that in the next year or two we'll be able to have a demonstration of an error-correcting qubit," Dean told CNET. 

Google's error-correcting approach would see it combine multiple qubits into a virtual or logical qubit. 

As Lucero notes, Google hopes to build a million physical qubits that cooperate in an error-corrected quantum computer. First comes the quantum transistor, consisting of two error-corrected logical qubits, and then the task of encoding one logical qubit. 

"To get there, we need to show we can encode one logical qubit – with 1,000 physical qubits. Using quantum error-correction, these physical qubits work together to form a long-lived nearly perfect qubit – a forever qubit that maintains coherence until power is removed, ushering in the digital era of quantum computing. Again, we expect years of concerted development to achieve this goal," writes Lucero. 

The end goal with qubits is that they more accurately represent how molecules work in the real world. This would allow for better modeling and simulation, which might allow scientists to develop new chemicals, medicines and better batteries.