By Jacob Aron
IBM today unveiled its first ever quantum computer designed for commercial use, the sleek-looking IBM Q System One. The company says it has no plans to sell the device, but will instead allow customers to perform quantum calculations over the internet.
Quantum computers offer the promise to vastly outperform regular machines at certain tasks by exploiting the strange properties of quantum physics, though as of yet no quantum device has achieved this milestone.
The Q System One has 20 quantum bits, or qubits, while most researchers expect that the first devices to achieve so-called “quantum supremacy” over ordinary computers will require at least 50 qubits.
IBM has spent the past few years making increasingly powerful quantum hardware available to the outside world. In 2016, it put a five-qubit machine online, free for anyone to experiment with, but this is the first system designed with commercial clients in mind.
The device is housed inside a temperature-controlled glass shell that is designed to preserve the qubits’ fragile quantum state. The idea is to reduce maintenance and make using the Q System One more like working with a regular mainframe server.
IBM is not the first company to offer a quantum computer for commercial use. In 2011, D-Wave Systems announced a partnership with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to use its 128-qubit processor. The company’s machines, which rely on a technique called quantum annealing, are generally not accepted by researchers as true, universal quantum computers.
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