Next Tuesday will see the first demonstration of quantum computing. If it works, it could herald the beginning of a new era in computing and sound a death knell for many current technologies.
The demonstration – coming about 20 years before scientists thought the technology would be viable – expects to process 64 000 calculations simultaneously.
Produced by D-Wave, a Canadian company backed by about $20-million in venture capital, the computer will be shown for the first time on Tuesday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California. It will be followed on Thursday by a demonstration in Vancouver.
The company has the following information displayed on its website: "We are D-Wave Systems, Inc. The Quantum Computing Company. D-Wave is the world’s first – and only – provider of quantum computing systems designed to run commercial applications.
"Please join us in February as we demonstrate a technological first: an end-to-end quantum computing system powered by a 16-qubit quantum processor, running two commercial applications – live."
While the demonstration computer will run a 16-qubit (quantum bit) processor, in theory computers could be built harnessing hundreds of qubits.
According to quantum physics, multiple quantum states exist at the same time, so each qubit actually is actually a 0 and a 1 simultaneously. This allows it to carry out calculations simultaneously in "parallel universes".
Quantum computing sounds a lot like science fiction and raises a host of new problems if it succeeds.
It was first described in 1985, but attempts to build a quantum computer have so far failed, mainly because the parallel universes of quantum theory "collapse" if they come into contact with the outside world.
Recently, however, a new technique, adiabatic quantum computing, has been developed and this embraces change. The downside is that it can perform only one function at a time.
It is known that on Tuesday D-Wave will use adiabatic quantum computing and has set up its computer to perform a single function, but it's not yet clear when such a set-up would be commercially viable.