The task of calculating which outputs these photons will emerge from, an operation known as boson sampling, grows well beyond the capabilities of classical computers the more photons are involved. The new computers accurately resolved what paths the photons would take — three photons with Broome and his colleagues' machine and four in Walmsley and his collaborators' device.
Since boson-sampling computing is in its infancy, it remains uncertain whether these computers can solve problems beyond boson sampling. Still, this research suggests that computers based on quantum physics could indeed tackle problems beyond the reach of classical computers.
Previously, there was nothing to say "that anything you can do on a quantum computer you can't do on a normal computer, which leaves in question the necessity for quantum computers," Broome said. "Now, with boson sampling, we're coming up with machines based on quantum physics that can attack problems strongly believed to be intractable for classical computers."
In the future, "it would be great to push these computers toward more photons to tackle problems that would be challenging to simulate on normal computers," study coauthor Walmsley added. Using about 20 to 30 photons would be a problem beyond the capabilities of classical computers.
Both research teams detailed their findings online Dec. 20 in the journal Science.
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