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Part of the cooling system used in IBM's 50-qubit quantum computer. Photo: IBM Research / Flick

IBM announced on Friday it has built a prototype 50 quantum bit (qubit) computer — the number some researchers think is needed to establish "quantum supremacy" over traditional computers. The company said its cloud computing platform will also be upgrading to a 20-qubit computer by the end of 2017.

Why it matters: Today's supercomputers are on processing par with quantum computers operating with less than 50 qubits. But quantum processors with more than 50 quantum bits are thought to be able to perform simulations and calculations that traditional computers cannot. IBM's previous version used 17 qubits.

How it works: Standard computers store information as a 0 or a 1. Quantum versions can represent it as 0, 1 or both at the same time, which gives them more processing power that could be useful for particular types of calculations.

Yes, but: It isn't ready for practical use. The quantum state lasts a mere 90 microseconds. And, the University of Maryland's Andrew Childs tells MIT Technology Review, it isn't just about the quantity of qubits but also quality. "Those qubits might be noisy, and there could be issues with how well connected they are."

Keep in mind: Quantum computers are well-suited for solving some problems — simulating chemical interactions at the subatomic level or optimizing supply chains, for example — but not necessarily everyday tasks.

Other players: Google, Intel, and a company called Rigetti are all working on quantum computing.

Go deeper

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.

Updated 8 hours ago - World

Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.