Infamous D-Wave black box, the Quantum Computer. Available to the pubic! (via D-Wave)
As computer hardware has progressed so has the software that makes them work. Starting decades ago punch cards were used to write programs for giant main frame computers. Then as time elapsed computers began to get smaller and more efficient. Likewise, languages used to program them also began to become more efficient. Languages such as FORTRAN, COBOL, and C were introduced which had a tremendous impact on the efficiency in which machines were programmed. Therefore, it seems appropriate that as quantum computing research brings us closer to working machines, new languages will begin to appear to address these new architectures.
Quantum computing works by using qubits which can take the value of one or zero at the same time. Using this method they can assume multiple states at once allowing them to be millions of times more powerful than today's computers. However, writing algorithms for these computers is not an easy task. Rather than the traditional logic computer languages currently use, quantum computer languages must address the logic that qubits present. Therefore, a practical quantum language is needed to save programmers time and make the writing of algorithms more efficient.
Peter Selinger and colleagues from Dalhousie University in Canada may have created what might become the first high level quantum language. The language is called Quipper and is based on the Haskell programming language. Like Haskell, it is built and designed to excel in mathematical and physics applications while also making the algorithms less tedious and complex to create. “It does all the nice features of a modern classical programming language, adapted to quantum computing,” commented Bob Coecke from the University of Oxford.
Although quantum computers are still going through development and research, the researchers believe that a working quantum language will help shape the design of the systems. They have already begun to create a library of code for some of the most common quantum computing problems. By doing so they hope that others will continue on and contribute to the library, creating a valuable resource for future developers.
“Having a well-designed programming language helps structure your thinking and informs the way you think about a problem. It may become a useful tool in the design of new quantum software,” said Selinger. In addition, the researchers mention that writing algorithms using Quipper has led to some changes in the designs of hardware for the computers. Their latest experiments include tests on hardware using ion traps and photons. Ironically enough, the only current quantum computer available, with much debate, the D-wave computer, will not be compatible with Quipper. This is due to the method the D-wave uses for processing, also known as adiabatic quantum computing. The language is currently available in a beta version but is free to download. Funded by the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, Quiper is the next step towards a world of quantum computing.
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