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At this year’s CES, IBM unveiled their 50-Qubit Quantum Computer prototype, which looks more at home in the Steam Punk world instead of an exhibition room at The Venetian Hotel and Casino.

What makes the machine an incredible piece of technology is in the way it processes data. Rather than strictly using digital binary (1’s and 0’s), quantum computers take advantage of qubits, which represent those 1’s and 0’s at the same time (known as superposition). Technically speaking, this enables the system to test the two states simultaneously—and adding additional qubits increases that computational power exponentially.

To put that into perspective, IBM placed a functioning quantum computer (a 20-Qubit version) hosted in the cloud with their IBM Q Experience that allows for 1.7-million experiments from 60,000 different users, all at the same time. As you could imagine, running a quantum chip that can pump-out that many executions are going to generate tremendous heat. To keep the machine running at a stable temperature, IBM designed a chandelier-like system that begins cooling from the top down, which ranges from four Kelvin down to 10 millikelvin — that’s 10-thousandths of a degree above absolute zero.

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The quantum chip itself resides in a unique canister at the base, which is isolated from thermal, electrical and magnetic noise to function correctly. The wires that run along both sides of the structure are used to transport RF signals down to the chip, where they are mapped onto qubits and executed on whatever programs are currently operating.

The IBM Q Team, and other industry leaders, believe the first applications for the new quantum computer will include chemistry, optimization and machine learning for more advanced AI platforms. Technically, there’s no theoretical limit to what a quantum computer could process; sophisticated materials simulations (nanotechnology), integer factorization (cryptology) and atom simulation would all become possible. Either way, it will be interesting to see how this technology—and the results that come from —unfold over the not-too-distant future.


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