IBM wants to build commercial quantum computers

IBM has taken a significant step to making quantum computing a commercial reality, by setting up a new division with the intention of releasing a quantum system at some point this year.

IBM wants to build commercial quantum computers

Quantum has been heralded for some years now as the next great opportunity in computing, and IBM is hoping the establishment of IBM Q will help to lay the foundations for a future quantum computer market.

On a very basic level, quantum computers make use of quantum bits (qubits) able to represent either a “1”, or a “0”, or some state in between, at the same time. At the moment, the leading commercial quantum system is the D-Wave 2X, used by NASA and Google amongst others, although it can only run a limited range of quantum algorithms.

IBM wants to go further and develop a general-purpose ‘universal’ quantum computer. A full-scale quantum system may be years away, particularly one that fits under your work desk (the D-Wave 2X is ten feet tall and needs a constant supply of liquid helium to keep it a cool -273 degrees C), but IBM Q plans to give users access to an experimental, cloud-based quantum system – not yet powerful enough to have commercial use, but one that the company hopes will lay the groundwork for quantum clouds to come.

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IBM Q has not given specifics about when its experimental cloud-based quantum computer would be made available, or exactly how powerful the system will be, but it looks to build on the company’s existing cloud computing service: Quantum Experience. Free to access, the system allows researchers to get a handle on the challenges of programming quantum algorithms.

“We’re at a stage now where this is going from research plaything to where you really want to look at it from a commercial point of view,” Scott Crowder, chief technical officer for quantum computing in IBM’s systems group, told the Financial Times.

Practical, full-scale quantum computers are estimated to need the ability to be able to work with around 500,000 to 1 million qubits, while IBM’s Quantum Experience currently only works with five qubits. Building up quantum computing isn’t simply a matter of throwing more qubits into the pile – there are issues with error correction on the quantum level, for one – but by providing researchers with more tools to build quantum algorithms, IBM could be setting the foundations for future computing.

Image: IBM

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