Last year, IBM hauled a 50-qubit quantum computer to CES. Or, rather, it brought the eye-catching bits -- an intricate collection of tubes and wires that resembled a steampunk chandelier -- and left the more cumbersome cooling and power-management parts at home. The complete system, housed at a research lab in Yorktown Heights, New York, was spread out over a large room. It was a functional but totally inelegant design, according to Bob Sutor, vice president of IBM Q Strategy and ecosystem. "Imagine a car," he told Engadget, "but take off the shiny exterior of the car. And then move the battery over to one side. Instead of having a very tightly integrated set of electronics in the powertrain and things like that, start pulling them apart into pieces and just kind of spreading them all around the car. It might still be functional. Roughly one year ago, IBM set out to make something better: a fully integrated system that was modular, easily upgradable and optimized for quantum ...
Qubits, the unit of information used by quantum computers, make use of a phenomenon known as "superposition" wherein they can exist in two separate quantum states simultaneously. Theoretically, they'd enable computers to perform a variety of tasks far faster than conventional desktops by performing simultaneous computations in parallel. The problem is that qubits tend to be very unstable which prevents the information the contain from being read. However, a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia may have finally tamed the elusive qubit. "We have created a new quantum bit where the spin of a single electron is merged together with a strong electromagnetic field," Arne Laucht, a Research Fellow at UNSW, said in a statement.
In 1972, at the age of ten, I spent a week somewhere near Windsor – it's hazy now – learning how to program a computer. This involved writing out instructions by hand and sending the pages to unseen technicians who converted them into stacks of cards punched with holes. The cards were fed overnight into a device that we were only once taken to see. It filled a room; magnetic tape spooled behind glass panels in big, grey, wardrobe-sized boxes. The next morning, we'd receive a printout of the results and the day would be spent finding the programming faults that had derailed our calculations of pi to the nth decimal place.
They are billed as machines that will change the future, but quantum computers themselves are still in the future. All the same, scientists have been working on developing a working quantum computer for years now, and the frenzied competition to be the first has yielded a new record -- a 53-qubit quantum simulator.
Building a quantum computer has gone from a far-off dream of a few university scientists to an immediate goal for some of the world's biggest companies. Tech giants Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Google are all plowing tens of millions of dollars into quantum computing, which aims to harness quantum mechanics to vastly accelerate computation. Yet the contenders are betting on different technological horses: No one yet knows what type of quantum logic bit, or qubit, will power a practical quantum computer. Google, often considered the field's leader, has signaled its choice: tiny, superconducting circuits. Its group has built a nine-qubit machine and hopes to scale up to 49 within a year--an important threshold. At about 50 qubits, many say a quantum computer could achieve "quantum supremacy" and do something beyond the ken of a classical computer, such as simulating molecular structures in chemistry and materials science, or solving problems in cryptography. Small startup company ionQ, a decided underdog, is sticking with its preferred technology: trapped ions.