Even though quantum computers are a young technology and aren't yet ready for routine practical use, researchers have already been investigating the theoretical constraints that will bound quantum technologies. One of the things researchers have discovered is that there are limits to how quickly quantum information can race across any quantum device.
These speed limits are called Lieb-Robinson bounds, and, for several years, some of the bounds have taunted researchers. For certain tasks, there was a gap between the best speeds allowed by theory and the speeds possible with the best algorithms anyone had designed. It's as though no car manufacturer could figure out how to make a model that reached the local highway limit.
But unlike speed limits on roadways, information speed limits can't be ignored when you're in a hurry—they are the inevitable results of the fundamental laws of physics. For any quantum task, there is a limit to how quickly interactions can make their influence felt (and thus transfer information) a certain distance away. The underlying rules define the best performance that is possible. In this way, information speed limits are more like the max score on an old school arcade game than traffic laws, and achieving the ultimate score is an alluring prize for scientists.
Now a team of researchers, led by JQI Fellow Alexey Gorshkov, have found a quantum protocol that reaches the theoretical speed limits for certain quantum tasks. Their result provides new insight into designing optimal quantum algorithms and proves that there hasn't been a lower, undiscovered limit thwarting attempts to make better designs. Gorshkov, who is also a Fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS) and a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and his colleagues presented their new protocol in a recent article published in the journal Physical Review X.
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