Indexed on: 23 May '13Published on: 23 May '13Published in: Nature communications
Efforts to develop useful quantum computers have been blocked primarily by environmental noise. Quantum annealing is a scheme of quantum computation that is predicted to be more robust against noise, because despite the thermal environment mixing the system's state in the energy basis, the system partially retains coherence in the computational basis, and hence is able to establish well-defined eigenstates. Here we examine the environment's effect on quantum annealing using 16 qubits of a superconducting quantum processor. For a problem instance with an isolated small-gap anticrossing between the lowest two energy levels, we experimentally demonstrate that, even with annealing times eight orders of magnitude longer than the predicted single-qubit decoherence time, the probabilities of performing a successful computation are similar to those expected for a fully coherent system. Moreover, for the problem studied, we show that quantum annealing can take advantage of a thermal environment to achieve a speedup factor of up to 1,000 over a closed system.