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.
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.
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