From afar, it looks like a steampunk chandelier. Or an intricate collection of tubes and wires that culminate in a small steel cylinder at the bottom. It is, in fact, one of the most sophisticated quantum computers ever built. The processor inside has 50 quantum bits, or qubits, that process tasks in a (potentially) revolutionary way. Normally, information is created and stored as a series of ones and zeroes. Qubits can represent both values at the same time (known as superposition), which means a quantum computer can theoretically test the two simultaneously. Add more qubits and this hard-to-believe computational power increases.
Last November, IBM unveiled the world's first 50-qubit quantum computer. It lives in a laboratory, inside a giant white case, with pumps to keep it cool and some traditional computers to manage the tasks or algorithms being initiated. At CES this year, the company brought the innards -- the wires and tubes required to send signals to the chip and keep the system cool -- so reporters and attendees could better understand how it works. The biggest challenge, IBM Research Vice President Jeffrey Welser told me, is isolating the chip from unwanted "noise." This includes electrical, magnetic and thermal noise -- just the temperature of the room renders the whole machine useless.