Under the heading of “dull and temporary but important”, IBM has built and is operating a 17 qubit quantum computer. Compared to conventional computers where the number of circuits, transistors, memory locations, and data speeds are measured in millions, billions, and trillions, a number like 17 sounds very small. It is. Quantum computers, however, can do much more with much less, which is one reason that are being built. The jump to 17 qubits represents a step from the early computers that only had fewer than 5 qubits. They were experimental models that were better at proving proof of concepts. Now that they are in the teens, they can begin doing real work, at least for large organizations. The technology continues to advance with an expectation of exceeding 50 qubits within the next few years. It may seem like they will never be machines useful to the general public, but conventional computers were originally relegated to large organizations – until we discovered that machines developed for armies could be modified to play music and watch movies. There’s no way to know how or if the general public will use them, but this represents a critical shift in computers and computing yet again.
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