By Evan Ackerman
Wow. Let me say that again: Wow. According to The Guardian, a Canadian company called D-Wave has created a functional quantum computer called Orion, which uses a chip of 16 quantum bits made out of supercooled niobium. More pictures of incomprehensible hardware here and here. 16 quantum bits may not sound like much, but it means that the computer is actually existing in 2 to the power of 16 (65,000ish) different states at the same time. Conventional computers can only really exist in one state at a given time, even if they do switch states very quickly. Since a quantum computer exists in so many different states at once, if you want to calculate something, the computer doesn’t have to take steps, it just “settles” into the right answer. Plus, for every quantum bit (qbit) added to a quantum computer, the computing power goes up by a power of 2.
If the whole “different states at the same time” thing is a little hard to wrap your mind around, just listen to this: a paper published in Nature last year (here’s a summary from New Scientist) showed experimentally how a quantum computer can determine the result of a program without actually running the program.
Utterly confused yet? Don’t worry:
“Nobody understands quantum mechanics.” –Richard Feynman, Nobel prize winning quantum physicist
D-Wave isn’t kidding when they say that this may make computer history, but a lot of people are skeptical about the current practicality of this technology. So perhaps my “wow” is a bit premature; after all, I said the same “wow” about the Optimus keyboard and Duke Nukem Forever. The demo is scheduled for February 13, and I shall endeavour to remain cautiously optimistic until then. But still… Wow!