A new type of silicon chip that works on light instead of electricity could pave the way for the first ultra-fast "quantum computer.," British scientists claimed Thursday.

The new chips send signals via packets of light rather than electrical impulses, and hugely powerful machines based on them will be able to search vast databases almost instantaneously and greatly increase computer memory.

"It is widely believed that a quantum computer will not become a reality for at least another 25 years," says Professor Jeremy O'Brien, Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics in Bristol, England. "However, we believe, using our new technique, a quantum computer could, in less than ten years, be performing calculations that are outside the capabilities of conventional computers."

Applications for the chip, are likely to be complex simulations of biological molecules and drugs that are beyond the capability of conventional machines.

“We can perform calculations that are exponentially more complex than before,” O’Brien said. “This will pave the way to quantum computers that will help us understand the most complex scientific problems.”

The researchers believe that their device represents a new route to a quantum computer -- a powerful type of computer that uses quantum bits (qubits) rather than the conventional bits used in today's computers.

Unlike conventional bits or transistors, which can be in one of only two states at any one time (a 1 or a 0), a qubit can be in several states at the same time and can therefore be used to hold and process a much larger amount of information at a greater rate.

NewsCore contributed to this report. 

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