The Infinity Machine

It promises to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems. It’s backed by Jeff Bezos, NASA and the CIA. Each one costs $10,000,000 and operates at 459 degrees below zero. And nobody knows how it actually works. 

TIME explores the exciting new frontier of quantum computers — an enormous new source of computing power able to solve some of our most vexing problems. Quantum computers, now being sold for roughly $10 million each, have attracted the attention of both big companies and government agencies for their potential to revolutionize everything from nanotechnology to medicine to artificial intelligence. Critics, however are pushing back, claiming the quantum computers on the market are overhyped and don’t exhibit quantum behavior at all.

TIME’s Lev Grossman writes: “[The company D-Wave] makes a new type of computer called a quantum computer that’s so radical and strange, people are still trying to figure out what it’s for and how to use it…. The supercooled niobium chip at the heart of the D-Wave Two has 512 qubits and therefore could in theory perform 2^512 operations simultaneously. That’s more calculations than there are atoms in the universe, by many orders of magnitude…. Naturally, a lot of people want one. This is the age of Big Data, and we’re burying ourselves in ­­information—search queries, genomes, credit-card purchases, phone records, retail transactions, social media, geological surveys, climate data, surveillance videos, movie recommendations—and D-Wave just happens to be selling a very shiny new shovel.”

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