Computers are made of chips, and in the future, some of those chips might use light as their main ingredient. Scientists from the Ontario, Canada-based quantum computing firm Xanadu and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology have taken a big step towards that future by building a light-based chip that can be programmed through cloud access.

While conventional computers use electricity to create the ones and zeros that are their lifeblood, quantum computing experts have multiple options when developing their quantum bits (qubits). Some rely on superconductors, some start with extremely cold atoms, and some, like the researchers at Xanadu, use light.

But not just any light. The light that travels through the thumbnail-sized Xanadu chip, or circuit, has been “squeezed” – that is, its quantum uncertainty has been minimized. Squeezing light is possible because of the Heisenberg uncertainty relation that says that trying to make any microscopic object very narrow is like squashing a piece of clay: the narrower it gets in one direction, the more it bulges in another. Squeezing light produces precisely shaped photonic states that can be used for very accurate measurements in optical physics. Xanadu researchers, however, had other ideas: they used these squeezed states as qubits.

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