CES 2018: IBM Shows Off The World's Largest Quantum Computer

[Related:CES 2018: The 10 Most Important Product Announcements]

A qubit, or quantum bit, is the building block of a quantum computer — the equivalent to a bit in a traditional computer.

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The promise of the quantum computer is to solve problems that typical computers will never be able to tackle, by bringing unheard-of power and speed to computing through leveraging the principles of quantum physics.

"You can essentially test all numbers against a problem at once, in parallel," Weiser said. "It gives you a massive parallelization."

The system wasn't able to actually operate at the show, because to do that requires keeping the machine to a temperature far colder than deep space.

"Really all of this infrastructure is built to support the chip, which is the computer itself," Weiser said, explaining that the 50-qubit processor must be protected not just from an increase in temperature, but also from electrical and mechanical noise.

"Qubits are in a superposition of quantum states between a one and a zero — that's a very fragile state," he said.

Potential applications of the quantum computer include complex optimizations, searches and machine learning.

Initially announced in November, IBM's 50-qubit quantum computer has not yet been released for use by commercial partners, but the company does have its 20-qubit quantum computer currently available for partners.