The researchers, from Cambridge, Southampton and Cardiff Universities in the UK and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia, have used quantum particles known as polaritons – which are half light and half matter – to act as a type of 'beacon' showing the way to the simplest solution to complex problems. This entirely new design could form the basis of a new type of computer that can solve problems that are currently unsolvable, in diverse fields such as biology, finance or space travel. The results are reported in the journal Nature Materials.
Our technological progress — from modelling protein folding and behaviour of financial markets to devising new materials and sending fully automated missions into deep space — depends on our ability to find the optimal solution of a mathematical formulation of a problem: the absolute minimum number of steps that it takes to solve that problem.
The search for an optimal solution is analogous to looking for the lowest point in a mountainous terrain with many valleys, trenches, and drops. A hiker may go downhill and think that they have reached the lowest point of the entire landscape, but there may be a deeper drop just behind the next mountain. Such a search may seem daunting in natural terrain, but imagine its complexity in high-dimensional space.