A Vancouver-area company holding public demonstrations of what it claims as "the world's first quantum computer" has admitted it may be overstating the case in the face of questions raised by researchers.

D-Wave Systems Inc. of Burnaby, B.C. showcased its machine at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., on Tuesday and was to demonstrate it at the Telus World of Science museum in Vancouver on Thursday.

Quantum technology could revolutionize the computer industry by allowing systems to simultaneously perform multiple calculations where traditional computers would have to perform them one at a time.

Such a system would be governed by the rules of quantum physics, as opposed to physics laws such as mechanics, gravity and Einstein's theory of relativity. Quantum mechanics rule particle interactions below the atomic scale, where the conventional laws of physics break down.

D-Wave said their exhibitions are the first time a quantum computer has been demonstrated outside of a laboratory setting.

But some quantum computing scientists are casting doubt on D-Wave's claim since the private company has not submitted its research for peer review.

Most scientists in the field believe a quantum computer is years or decades away.

"Until we see more actual measurements, it's hard to know whether they succeeded or not," Phil Kuekes, a computer architect in the Quantum Science Research Group at Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP Labs told the Associated Press.

D-Wave says its computer can perform 64,000 calculations simultaneously.

Specialized machine

In the face of the questions, D-Wave CEO Herb Martin said his company's device is not a true quantum computer but rather a specialized machine that uses quantum mechanics to perform its calculations.

"Users don't care about quantum computing — users care about application acceleration. That's our thrust," he told the AP. "A general purpose quantum computer is a waste of time. You could spend hundreds of billions of dollars on it" and not create a working computer.

Martin said his company believes its computer is performing quantum computations, but confessed they're not certain. He also said it may not be possible to maintain the quantum calculations as the machine is made more powerful.

From bits to 'qubits'

The fundamental element of a traditional computer is a bit, which, like a switch, can only be in the on or off state at any given moment, or hold a value of either one or zero. The more bits a computer can handle, the more powerful the computer.

In contrast, the fundamental element of quantum computing, the quantum bit or "qubit," can exist in multiple states at the same time so every qubit is simultaneously on and off with a value of one and zero.

The ability of a qubit to exist in both the on-and-off state simultaneously is what would theoretically make a quantum computer astronomically more powerful than those that exist today.

According to D-Wave, its 16-qubit device exploits a new approach, putting it into a category known as an adiabatic quantum computer (AQC). Such a system is designed to solve a single type of problem only.

D-Wave had not returned CBC News Online's telephone calls by late morning Thursday.

with files from the Canadian Press