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World's First Quantum Computer Set For Debut

D-Wave Systems Inc. will demonstrate the world's first commercial quantum computer next week, a supercooled, superconducting niobium chip housing an array of 16 quantum bits.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Computing is poised for a quantum leap in speed and accuracy.

D-Wave Systems Inc. will demonstrate the world's first commercial quantum computer next week, a supercooled, superconducting niobium chip housing an array of 16 qubits.

To date, most quantum computing efforts have focused on communications or cryptography, but the D-Wave quantum computer, called "Orion," solves the most difficult problems—called "NP-Complete"—in a just a few cycles, compared to the thousands of cycles needed by conventional computers.

Initially, D-Wave (Vancouver, B.C.) will lease time on its quantum computer, which will be accessed over a secure Internet connection. Eventually, the company plans to sell quantum computer systems.

"We have built the world's first commercial quantum computer," said Geordie Rose, founder and chief technology officer of D-Wave. "It doesn't do any kind of communications or cryptographic applications, but instead solves multivariable, combinatorial problems on our own supercooled quantum computer."

Nondeterministic polynomial (NP) problems are the most difficult to solve on conventional computers because each variable adds yet another dimension to its possible solutions. Each must be calculated and compared to find an optimal solution. Consequently, conventional computers almost never achieve completely optimal results, but rather use approximation techniques to save computer time.

Quantum computers, on the other hand, can evaluate all possible solutions simultaneously and find the optimal solution, often in just a few clock cycles, thereby not only vastly speeding up the time taken to find the solution but also finding the most optimal result.

NP-complete problems pervade the industry, from database searchs to pattern-matching to drug discovery to medical applications ranging from identifying diseases from symptoms to finding matches for genetic material.

The Orion processor sovles these problems by loading its parameters into its 16 superconducting qubits, or quantum bits called thermally assisted adiabatic quantum computers (TAQCs). Each qubit can simultaneously take on all possible values for each parameter, and thus can more quickly perform the necessary comparisons and find the closest solution.

Orion is fabricated out of the superconducting metal niobium using conventional lithography. It was then supercooled to near absolute zero to permit its qubits to maintain their quantum state throughout a caluculation. The chip does take time to set up a calculation since—like a field-programmable gate array—its interrconnections are reconfigured to match each problem. Once set up, it can find the solution in record time.

"We translate combinatorial problems with many variables into graphs from which our chip can be reconfigured to solve [problems]. Much like an FPGA, it is software programmable," said Rose. "Once the processor is reconfigured for a particular graph, it can very quickly find the global minumum which is the answer."

D-Wave will demonstrate Orion at the Computer History Museum,'(Mountain View, Calif.) on Tuesday (Feb. 13).

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