Brian Krzanich giving keynote speech at CES 2018

49-qubit quantum computer presented by Intel

Image credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

At a keynote presentation at CES 2018, Intel presented a quantum computer with 49 qubits, nearly matching IBM’s most advanced quantum processor.

While classical computers store information in binary code – as a series of 0s and 1s – quantum computers harness phenomena that arise at the quantum scale, allowing for particles to exist in multiple states (0 and 1) at once. This allows data to be stored far more efficiently than in classical computers, vastly increasing processing speeds.

Problems which take hours of processing time on supercomputers – such as biological or astronomical simulations – could be solved in an instant using a quantum computer.

Intel is among a number of companies, including IBM, Google and Microsoft, competing to build practical quantum computers that could eventually begin replacing some classical computers.

The race to build quantum computers is full of challenges, largely due to maintaining the stability of the fragile quantum system. For operations to be completed, the system must be ‘coherent’: there must be a definite phase relation between the different quantum states. When the system is not perfectly isolated from its surroundings, interactions with its environment cause coherence to be lost; this is ‘decoherence.

Now, in a keynote presentation at CES, Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO, announced that the company had created a 49-bit quantum computing chip. This chip has been named ‘Tangle Lake’.

“Quantum computing represents a completely different approach to computing. This technology will be able to solve problems that are insurmountable today,” said Krzanich. “Just as we ushered in the era of our classical personal computing, we’re pushing the boundaries of the quantum computing revolution.”

According to Krzanich, the chip has been shipped for testing, and he is “optimistic” about the possibilities for the technology.

A group of US researchers presented a quantum simulator with 51 qubits in 2017, although this simulator is distinct from a computer, as it can solve just one equation. Similarly, the 2000-qubit system developed by D-Wave is not a true computer. The real competition for Intel in the quantum computer race continues to be from IBM, which announced in November 2017 that it had created a 50-qubit processor, and Google, which has draughted blueprints for a 49-qubit system.

At the keynote speech, Krzanich also spoke about Intel’s development of an energy-efficient neuromorphic test chip nicknamed ‘Loihi’. This self-learning chip mimics human neurons to recognise images and complete other tasks.

Intel has been under fire over the past week following the revelation of two major chip  security flaws – named Meltdown and Spectre – affecting most Intel chips manufactured since 1995. Intel chips are used in 90 per cent of laptops and 80 per cent of desktop computers.

Despite anger over the security flaw and the months-long delay in reporting it – which Intel has stated was due to the company wanting to find a fix first – Krzanich went ahead with his featured CES appearance, stating 90 per cent of products from the past five years would be patched within a week.

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