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'World first' quantum computer set to debut next week

Landmark or footnote?

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A Canadian start-up says it will demonstrate a working commercial quantum computer in Mountain View next week, years ahead of many experts' predictions.

Venture capital-funded to the tune of $20m, Vancouver-based D-Wave says it has built a quantum computer with 16 qubits - the quantum world's version of a digital bit, but which simultaneously encodes 1 and 0, so can carry more information and solve problems more quickly.

D-Wave's claims have met with some practical and mathematical skepticism from the quantum-computing community, wary of over-hyping the technology. There's a taster of that doubt here at the Quantum Pontiff blog.

With just the 16 qubits, the device, known as Orion, will not have the brawn to perform factoring of the extremely large numbers which underly cryptography. The number-crunching feat has IT security firms and spooks afraid their current encryption technologies will be rendered obselete when a quantum computer with hundreds of qubits arrives.

According to D-Wave CTO Dr Geordie Rose's blog, the firm's roadmap calls for the construction of a 1,000 qubit machine in 2008.

D-Wave will demonstrate two applications for its quantum computer remotely on a machine at its headquarters in British Columbia. The first is a pattern-matching problem derived from molecular databases, while the second will tackle assigning seats to people under constraints, wedding reception style. Its speed at 16 qubits should be roughly similar to standard computers.

All will be revealed at the Computer History Museum on Tuesday. The event will be filmed and posted to D-Wave's website. For now, there are pictures of the circuitry here and here. ®

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