About a week ago, Canada’s D-Wave demonstrated the "world’s first commercially viable quantum computer" – dubbed Orion – and found immediate skepticism from the scientific community. D-Wave CEO Herb Martin has emphasized the machine is "not a true quantum computer," however. Instead, he described it as a "kind of special-purpose machine that uses some quantum mechanics to solve problems." D-Wave claims it will be able to produce viable commercial systems by 2008, though, and the impact on computing could be significant.
Traditional computing involves bits whose value is either 0 or 1. Quantum computing, however, involves "qubits," which can be a 0, 1, or both at the same time. Orion includes only 16 qubits, but D-Wave expects the model released in 2008 to include 1,024. That kind of computing power would theoretically allow Orion to solve NP-complete problems that are not solvable by digital computers, such as precisely modeling complex molecules.
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