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Taking the Heat

By Marina Krakovsky

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 64 No. 6, Pages 18-20
10.1145/3460214

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Quantum computing, which promises to harness the special properties of quantum mechanics to dramatically speed up calculations and thus help solve currently intractable problems, has attracted considerable investment from tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and IBM. Yet there is still no commercially available quantum computer because of the immense challenges in creating and running such a machine.

One of the major challenges is heat management. As with classical computing, quantum computing uses physical hardware and, therefore, is subject to the laws of physics, particularly the thermodynamics of computation. However, quantum computers are far more fragile than classical computers, requiring far lower temperatures to work properly. Also, as shown in a theoretical paper published in October 2020, the thermodynamics of quantum information processing can create highly unusual and potentially damaging effects for these delicate machines.

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