Intel's quirky new chips are made for quantum computing and machine learning
It turns out that combining a CPU and a GPU into one package isn't the most unconventional processor Intel had up its sleeve for CES 2018. Now the company has revealed a new quantum computer test chip containing 49 quantum bits (qubits), as well as a "neuromorphic" chip based on the function of the human brain.
Quantum computers could be the next big frontier in computing, with companies like Intel, IBM and Google racing to develop the technology. They have the potential to be far more powerful than traditional computers: where a normal bit of information is stored as either a 1 or a 0, a qubit takes advantage of the quirks of quantum physics to store data as 1, 0 or both at the same time. The exponential growth with each added qubit means that a system with 5 qubits is about the equivalent of 32 regular bits.
Intel's newest quantum computer test chip, named "Tangle Lake," boasts 49 qubits, which could theoretically make for a computer system that rivals our current best supercomputers – if it was ready for commercial use. That, it seems, is still a long way off, but milestones like these show just how fast the technology is advancing – a 17 qubit device was a big deal when IBM revealed it back in May last year.
IBM also still holds the record of most powerful quantum chip, with a 50 qubit model unveiled in November.
"In the quest to deliver a commercially viable quantum computing system, it's anyone's game," says Mike Mayberry, managing director of Intel Labs. "We expect it will be five to seven years before the industry gets to tackling engineering-scale problems, and it will likely require 1 million or more qubits to achieve commercial relevance."
The other Intel reveal was a Neuromorphic chip codenamed Loihi. Similar to a neural network, this system is modeled on the way the human brain processes and stores information. Instead of processing data in one component before sending it to another for storage, the chip performs both functions in the same spot. As the chip learns, it rewires its own connections to speed up the process and make for a more efficient system.
Loihi is due to be tested in research institutions in the first half of 2018, where it can tackle complex data sets. Intel engineers describe how Loihi works in the video below.