CES 2018: IBM Shows Off The World's Largest Quantum Computer

One of the most mind-boggling showcases at CES 2018 was IBM's prototype of a working 50-qubit quantum computer.

The prototype is currently the largest quantum computer in the world thanks to its use of a 50-qubit processor, according to Jeff Weiser, vice president and lab director at IBM Research.

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A qubit, or quantum bit, is the building block of a quantum computer — the equivalent to a bit in a traditional computer.

The promise of the quantum computer is to solve problems that typical computers will never be able to tackle, by bringing unheard-of power and speed to computing through leveraging the principles of quantum physics.

"You can essentially test all numbers against a problem at once, in parallel," Weiser said. "It gives you a massive parallelization."

The system wasn't able to actually operate at the show, because to do that requires keeping the machine to a temperature far colder than deep space.

"Really all of this infrastructure is built to support the chip, which is the computer itself," Weiser said, explaining that the 50-qubit processor must be protected not just from an increase in temperature, but also from electrical and mechanical noise.

"Qubits are in a superposition of quantum states between a one and a zero — that's a very fragile state," he said.

Potential applications of the quantum computer include complex optimizations, searches and machine learning.

Initially announced in November, IBM's 50-qubit quantum computer has not yet been released for use by commercial partners, but the company does have its 20-qubit quantum computer currently available for partners.

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