The machine is currently in the "operational prototype" stage, which means that it is still quite far off from commercial use. But, what exactly is a quantum computer?
Our modern computers process ones and zeros, whereas quantum computers can represent ones, zeros or both (at the same time) as qubits commingle in entanglement and superposition states. This peculiarly enables quantum computers to perform many types of calculations with much greater speed than traditional computers. That extreme performance, comes at a cost. Quantum information must be safeguarded not only from heat, but also electromagnetic radiation — both of which can cause errors.
In the case of the 50-qubit system, the quantum state was only maintained for 90 microseconds. While that set an industry record in length according to MIT Review, those times have to improve significantly for commercial viability.
In addition to the 50-qubit prototype that was announced today, IBM revealed that a 20-qubit version will be made available to its clients latest this year. Eventually, the 50-qubit system will be used to help empower future IBM Q experiences.
The IBM Q experience has allowed over 60,000 users to perform more than 1.7 million quantum experiments, which have been used in 35 research publications. Those registered users include people from more than 1,500 different universities, 300 high schools and 300 private institutions.
“We are, and always have been, focused on building technology with the potential to create value for our clients and the world,” said Dario Gil, vice president of AI and IBM Q, IBM Research. “The ability to reliably operate several working quantum systems and putting them online was not possible just a few years ago. Now, we can scale IBM processors up to 50 qubits due to tremendous feats of science and engineering. These latest advances show that we are quickly making quantum systems and tools available that could offer an advantage for tackling problems outside the realm of classical machines."
IBM delivered a 5-qubit prototype in May 2016, and upped the stakes with a 16-qubit device earlier this year.