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How do you build a universal quantum computer? Turns out, this question was addressed by theoretical physicists about 15 years ago. The answer was laid out in a research paper and has become known as the DiVincenzo criteria. The prescription is pretty clear at a glance; yet in practice the physical implementation of a full-scale universal quantum computer remains an extraordinary challenge.

To glimpse the difficulty of this task, consider the guts of a would-be quantum computer. The computational heart is composed of multiple quantum bits, or qubits, that can each store 0 and 1 at the same time. The qubits can become “entangled,” or correlated in ways that are impossible in conventional devices. A quantum computing device must create and maintain these quantum connections in order to have a speed and storage advantage over any conventional computer. That’s the upside. The difficulty arises because harnessing entanglement for computation only works when the qubits are almost completely isolated from the outside world. Isolation and control becomes much more difficult as more and more qubits are added into the computer. Basically, as quantum systems are made bigger, they generally lose their quantum-ness.

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