This is what a 50-qubit quantum computer looks like

That’s where the pumps would normally come in. From top to bottom, the system gradually cools from four Kelvin — liquid-helium temperatures — to 800 milliKelvin, 100 milliKelvin and, finally, 10 milliKelvin. Inside the canister, that’s 10 thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. The wires, meanwhile, carry RF-frequency signals down to the chip. These are then mapped onto the qubits, executing whatever program the research team wishes to run. The wiring is also designed in a way to ensure that no extraneous noise — including heat — is transported to the quantum computer chip at the bottom.

Many in the industry have suggested that a 50-qubit system could achieve “quantum supremacy.” The term refers to the moment when a quantum computer is able to outperform a traditional system or accomplish a task otherwise thought impossible. The problem, though, is that quantum computers are only compatible with certain algorithms. They’re well-suited to quantum chemistry, for instance, and material simulations. But it’s unlikely you’ll ever use a quantum computer to complete a PowerPoint presentation. “The world is not classical, it’s quantum, so if you want to simulate it you need a quantum computer,” Welser said.

Researchers have already conducted experiments with quantum computers. Scientists at IBM were able to simulate beryllium hydride (BeH2) on a seven-qubit quantum processor last September, for example. But critics want to see a quantum computer accomplish something more tangible, which is more meaningful for the everyday consumer. That day, unfortunately, could still be a long way off.

“Somewhere between 50 and 100 qubits, we’ll reach the point where we can at least say very clearly, ‘I’ve just simulated a molecule here in a few minutes time that would have taken this giant system five days to do.’ That level we’ll be at fairly rapidly. When it gets to something that the public will understand in terms of an application they would use themselves, I can’t really speculate at this point,” Welser said.

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This is what a 50-qubit quantum computer looks like

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