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Intel has begun manufacturing chips for quantum computers.

The new hardware is too feeble to do much real work, but it offers a strong signal that the technology is inching closer to real-world applications. “We’re [moving] quantum computing from the academic space to the semiconductor space,” says Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel.

While regular computers store and manipulate data by representing binary 1s and 0s, a quantum computer uses quantum bits or “qubits,” exploiting quantum phenomena to represent data in more than one state at once. This makes it possible to compute information in a fundamentally different way, and to perform some parallel calculations in the same time it would take to perform a single one.

Quantum computing has long been an academic curiosity, and there are enormous challenges to handling quantum information reliably. The sense is now growing, however, that the technology could emerge from research labs within a matter of years (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017: Practical Quantum Computers”).

Intel’s quantum chip uses superconducting qubits. The approach builds on an existing electrical circuit design but uses a fundamentally different electronic phenomenon that only works at very low temperatures. The chip, which can handle 17 qubits, was developed over the past 18 months by researchers at a lab in Oregon and is being manufactured at an Intel facility in Arizona.

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Category: Science