*Building Quantum Computers: A Practical Introduction* by Shayan Majidy, Christopher Wilson, and Raymond Laflamme has been published by Cambridge University Press and will be released in the US on September 30. The authors invited me to write a Foreword for the book, which I was happy to do. The publisher kindly granted permission for me to post the Foreword here on *Quantum Frontiers*.

**Foreword**

The principles of quantum mechanics, which as far as we know govern all natural phenomena, were discovered in 1925. For 99 years we have built on that achievement to reach a comprehensive understanding of much of the physical world, from molecules to materials to elementary particles and much more. No comparably revolutionary advance in fundamental science has occurred since 1925. But a new revolution is in the offing.

Up until now, most of what we have learned about the quantum world has resulted from considering the behavior of individual particles — for example a single electron propagating as a wave through a crystal, unfazed by barriers that seem to stand in its way. Understanding that single-particle physics has enabled us to explore nature in unprecedented ways, and to build information technologies that have profoundly transformed our lives.

What’s happening now is we’re learning how to instruct particles to evolve in coordinated ways that can’t be accurately described in terms of the behavior of one particle at a time. The particles, as we like to say, can become entangled. Many particles, like electrons or photons or atoms, when highly entangled, exhibit an extraordinary complexity that we can’t capture with the most powerful of today’s supercomputers, or with our current theories of how nature works. That opens extraordinary opportunities for new discoveries and new applications.

Most temptingly, we anticipate that by building and operating large-scale quantum computers, which control the evolution of very complex entangled quantum systems, we will be able to solve some computational problems that are far beyond the reach of today’s digital computers. The concept of a quantum computer was proposed over 40 years ago, and the task of building quantum computing hardware has been pursued in earnest since the 1990s. After decades of steady progress, quantum information processors with hundreds of qubits have become feasible and are scientifically valuable. But we may need quantum processors with millions of qubits to realize practical applications of broad interest. There is still a long way to go.

Why is it taking so long? A conventional computer processes bits, where each bit could be, say, a switch which is either on or off. To build highly complex entangled quantum states, the fundamental information-carrying component of a quantum computer must be what we call a “qubit” rather than a bit. The trouble is that qubits are much more fragile than bits — when a qubit interacts with its environment, the information it carries is irreversibly damaged, a process called decoherence. To perform reliable logical operations on qubits, we need to prevent decoherence by keeping the qubits nearly perfectly isolated from their environment. That’s very hard to do. And because a qubit, unlike a bit, can change continuously, precisely controlling a qubit is a further challenge, even when decoherence is in check.

While theorists may find it convenient to regard a qubit (or a bit) as an abstract object, in an actual processor a qubit needs to be encoded in a particular physical system. There are many options. It might, for example, be encoded in a single atom which can be in either one of two long-lived internal states. Or the spin of a single atomic nucleus or electron which points either up or down along some axis. Or a single photon that occupies either one of two possible optical modes. These are all remarkable encodings, because the qubit resides in a very simple single quantum system, yet, thanks to technical advances over several decades, we have learned to control such qubits reasonably well. Alternatively, the qubit could be encoded in a more complex system, like a circuit conducting electricity without resistance at very low temperature. This is also remarkable, because although the qubit involves the collective motion of billions of pairs of electrons, we have learned to make it behave as though it were a single atom.

To run a quantum computer, we need to manipulate individual qubits and perform entangling operations on pairs of qubits. Once we can perform such single-qubit and two-qubit “quantum gates” with sufficient accuracy, and measure and initialize the qubits as well, then in principle we can perform any conceivable quantum computation by assembling sufficiently many qubits and executing sufficiently many gates.

It’s a daunting engineering challenge to build and operate a quantum system of sufficient complexity to solve very hard computation problems. That systems engineering task, and the potential practical applications of such a machine, are both beyond the scope of *Building Quantum Computers*. Instead the focus is on the computer’s elementary constituents for four different qubit modalities: nuclear spins, photons, trapped atomic ions, and superconducting circuits. Each type of qubit has its own fascinating story, told here expertly and with admirable clarity.

For each modality a crucial question must be addressed: how to produce well-controlled entangling interactions between two qubits. Answers vary. Spins have interactions that are always on, and can be “refocused” by applying suitable pulses. Photons hardly interact with one another at all, but such interactions can be mocked up using appropriate measurements. Because of their Coulomb repulsion, trapped ions have shared normal modes of vibration that can be manipulated to generate entanglement. Couplings and frequencies of superconducting qubits can be tuned to turn interactions on and off. The physics underlying each scheme is instructive, with valuable lessons for the quantum informationists to heed.

Various proposed quantum information processing platforms have characteristic strengths and weaknesses, which are clearly delineated in this book. For now it is important to pursue a variety of hardware approaches in parallel, because we don’t know for sure which ones have the best long term prospects. Furthermore, different qubit technologies might be best suited for different applications, or a hybrid of different technologies might be the best choice in some settings. The truth is that we are still in the early stages of developing quantum computing systems, and there is plenty of potential for surprises that could dramatically alter the outlook.

Building large-scale quantum computers is a grand challenge facing 21st-century science and technology. And we’re just getting started. The qubits and quantum gates of the distant future may look very different from what is described in this book, but the authors have made wise choices in selecting material that is likely to have enduring value. Beyond that, the book is highly accessible and fun to read. As quantum technology grows ever more sophisticated, I expect the study and control of highly complex many-particle systems to become an increasingly central theme of physical science. If so, *Building Quantum Computers* will be treasured reading for years to come.

*John PreskillPasadena, California*

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