Cosmic Rays Might Put Quantum Computing in a Daze, But IBM Has Its Ways

A report published in July 2021 out of the University of Wisconsin has found that cosmic rays may have a significant effect on the accuracy of quantum computers, raising concerns about the viability of some of the technology. Cosmic rays are protons and nuclei moving through space at high speeds, which contribute to ionizing effects in the atmosphere and on Earth. Typically, these rays are not very noticeable to humans or most technology, but quantum computers are extremely sensitive. Not only were cosmic rays found to have created errors in the qubits they impacted, but propagating errors throughout the entire system, caused by the creation of phonons in the processor. Many traditional methods of error correction are unable to solve this issue, so manufacturers will need to be creative.

It should be noted that the errors from cosmic rays were only found in superconducting qubits, meaning developers such as PsiQuantum and Honeywell may not have similar issues. However, among superconducting quantum computer developers, IBM unsurprisingly has the largest number of patent assets covering error correction methods. Even if its more traditional methods of error correction won’t work, IBM also has patent assets specifically covering ways to shield their superconductors from external radiation. IBM appears to be steps ahead of its competitors such as Google and Microsoft on this issue, which could be essentially in efforts to scale to larger qubit systems. 

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