This week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, IBM unveiled its first ever standalone commercial quantum computer, the IBM Q System One.

The First Standalone Commercial Quantum Computer

Currently, access to the IBM Q System One will only be available over the cloud. The 20-qubit system has applications for research and business, and as IBM describes it, it is, ‘the world’s first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use.’

What Is Quantum Computing?

Quantum computing utilizes the laws of quantum mechanics – such as superposition and entanglement – to replace traditional binary calculations. In traditional binary-based digital electronic computers, transistors and capacitors represent information in a series of 1’s and 0’s. In quantum computing however, information is stored and transferred as quantum bits (qubits) which – due to the quantum principle of superposition – may be represented as both 1’s and 0’s simultaneously. This new way of calculating makes possible computations previously impossible for traditional deterministic computers.

A Step in the Right Direction

While the IBM Q System One is an exciting new advancement, it is far from the fully realized promise quantum computing enthusiasts have been awaiting. According to professor of quantum technologies at the UK’s University of Sussex, with regard to the IBM Q System One, “It’s more like a stepping stone than a practical quantum computer. Don’t think of this as a quantum computer that can solve all of the problems quantum computing is known for. Think of it as a prototype machine that allows you to test and further develop some of the programming that might be useful in the future.”

An Extremely Delicate Machine

The nature of quantum computing means the slightest vibration or electrical pulse can disrupt the entire system. As such, the IBM Q System One is housed in a nine-foot tall, air-tight box manufactured by the same company which makes the box holding the Mona Lisa. Currently, access to the IBM Q System One can only be made by partnering directly with IBM, but just today, IBM announced it had signed up both ExxonMobil and the European research lab, CERN.

As to when and if quantum computers will overtake traditional deterministic computers in home use is anyone’s guess, but advancements like the IBM Q System One are making that prospect an ever-increasing probability.