(Bloomberg) -- It’s a sunny Tuesday morning in late March at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center. The ­corridor from the reception area follows the long, curving glass curtain-wall that looks out over the visitors’ parking lot to leafless trees covering a distant hill in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., an hour north of Manhattan. Walk past the podium from the Jeopardy! episodes at which IBM’s Watson smote the human champion of the TV quiz show, turn right into a hallway, and you’ll enter a windowless lab where a quantum computer is chirping away.

Actually, “chirp” isn’t quite the right word. It’s a somewhat metallic sound, chush … chush … chush, that’s made by the equipment that lowers the temperature inside a so-called dilution ­refrigerator to within hailing distance of absolute zero. Encapsulated in a white canister suspended from a frame, the dilution refrigerator cools a superconducting chip studded with a handful of quantum bits, or qubits.

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