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IBM scientists have made a technical breakthrough that could usher in the next generation of computers, known as quantum computing. This is a computer where the transistors are so small, the computer is working with atoms and molecules.The computational problems that a quantum computer could solve make the supercomputers of today look like an Atari. As IBM puts it: “Quantum computing has been a Holy Grail for researchers ever since Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, in 1981, challenged the scientific community to build computers based on quantum mechanics.” But now it’s looking like such a computer could become a reality — and in our lifetimes.
As Alex Knapp on Forbes puts it, IBM scientists have figured out how to make something called a qubit “from microfabricated silicon that maintains coherence long enough for practical computation.”
In other words, today’s computers use “bits” as the basic building binary block, where each bit can either represent a “0” or a “1.” A qubit is the quantum computing equivalent of a bit. But a qubit can be in three states: a “0” or a “1” or “both.” But qubits aren’t stable — they tend to want to revert back to the “0” state.
Scientists have come up with a way for them to maintain this state long enough to perform a computation.
IBM isn’t yet ready to fire up the quantum fabrication factories yet. There’s a long way to go before this can become an actual computer. And there are practical problems such as that these qubits only function in super freezing temperatures.
Read the scientific explanation of the breakthrough here. (IBM’s website hosting the press release is currently down as quantum lovers everywhere rush to learn more about it. When it comes back up, it should be here.)
In the meantime, this video features IBMers explaining the promise of Quantum Computing.