First Quantum Computer Demonstrated

The Canadian company D-Wave demonstrated what it calls the first “commercial” quantum computer. The prototype machine which uses a 16-qubit process quantum computer was tested at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Although for now the machine is actually slower than many cheap home computers D-Wave is already working on a faster 1,000-qubit version which should be available by the end of 2008.

The new computer named Orion can only solve a very particular class of problems. During the demonstration which was done remotely (since D-Wave claimed Orion was too delicate to transport) the computer was given three problems: 1. Search for molecular structures that match a pre-selected caffeine molecule. 2. Create a complicated wedding sitting arrangement. 3. Fill in several Sudoku puzzles.

Many scientist are still skeptical about the recent announcement stating that D-Wave themselves admit that they "are not sure" if the Orion is actually doing quantum computations. D-Wave is basing its quantum computer technology on superconducting electronics which can shield the quantum states from the outside environment. The two superconductors used to build the Orion are made of aluminum and niobium. At room temperature these materials are metals. When they are cooled down close to absolute zero, the electrons in the metals pair to form particles called Cooper pairs. These particles carry charge in the superconductor. 

According to D-Wave Quantum computing is not aimed at replacing existing digital computers any time soon but rather to supplement them. Quantum computing will be able to solve what is known as “NP-complete” problems. These are problems where the sheer volume of complex data and variables prevent digital computers from achieving results in a reasonable amount of time. Such problems are found in many areas including life sciences, biometrics, logistics, parametric database search and quantitative finance. Quantum computers should be able to deliver precise answers to problems that can only be answered today in general terms.

In the picture, one of the filter used to clean the noise from the of the quantum computer. More information on the Orion could be found on D-Wave’s website.