IDG News Service - Medical researchers, chemists and financial modelers could soon be able to solve more challenging equations, using a computer powered by quantum processors developed by Canadian firm D-Wave Systems Inc.
D-Wave demonstrated a system it calls "the world's first commercially viable quantum computer" on Tuesday at a press conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. The company plans to begin selling QCs in 2008, pitching them as an adjunct to conventional digital computers, not a replacement for them.
QCs can solve problems that have enough data to stump a traditional supercomputer, such as the behavior of electrons in a molecule, D-Wave said. To solve such equations today, researchers use approximate simulations, but QCs will be able to model each electron.
The system relies on processors built with the superconducting materials aluminum and niobium. When these metals are cooled to absolute zero, their electrons form special particles called bosons, according to D-Wave. Bosons are powerful tools for computing because they can hold binary values of both zero and one simultaneously, whereas conventional digital bits must choose a single value.
Even more important, these quantum bits -- called qubits -- all mimic each other's values, following the laws of quantum dynamics. That allows computer scientists to instantly amplify their effects, creating superfast QCs.
"Even very primitive QCs will be able to outperform supercomputers in simulating nature," the company said. "As QC technology matures, systems containing hundreds, thousands, even millions of electrons will be able to be modeled by the direct, brute force solution. ... This means that the fundamental equations of nature will be solvable for all nanoscale systems, with no approximations or fudge factors."
Despite that potential, QCs must always be built as hybrids of conventional computers, D-Wave CEO Herb Martin said in a statement. Burnaby, British Columbia-based D-Wave was formed in 1999, when it was spun off from the University of British Columbia. The company is also busy creating software applications to manage the new chips.
There are other ways to create quantum processors, such as trapping atoms with lasers or building optical circuits with photonic crystals, but D-Wave said it will bring its chips to market first by using existing semiconductor industry technology to build them.
Still, many other researchers are developing their own novel forms of processors. On Monday, Intel Corp. researchers said they have built an 80-core chip that performs more than a teraflops while using less electricity than a modern desktop PC chip.
In December, IBM announced it had improved its ability to control photons, drawing closer to building a chip that movesdata as pieces of light instead of electricity. And in September, Intel said it had found a way to mount tiny lasers on chips, allowing it to someday move data by shooting light through silicon fibers instead of electricity through copper wires.
And while all those approaches are several years from reaching the commercial market, San Jose-based ClearSpeed Technology Inc. already sells massive, 96-core chips that act as accelerators for the chips in supercomputers from IBM and other vendors.
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