31/07/2020 | Written by: Think Blog Editor
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Four years after the launch of IBM’s first public quantum computer, the company has 22 systems available to clients and community, which now includes 230,000 users and 111 IBM Q Network client partners. Additionally, 180 billion quantum circuits have been executed using our hardware, resulting in more than 240 publications by researchers around the world. IBM invites companies, engineers and researchers to contribute to quantum technology as each new experiment brings the breakthrough closer.
How quantum computers are changing the world
Computers with enormous computing power
The concept of quantum computing reaches back to 1982 to an important insight by a physicist called Richard Feynman. He stated that ordinary computers wouldn’t be able to simulate physical systems. Instead, you would need a computer that works according to the laws of quantum mechanics. In other words, a quantum computer.
Computers with enormous potential computing power
What is the biggest difference between ordinary computers and quantum computers? In classic computers, bits are either 0 or 1. However, quantum computers owe their power to their quantum bits or qubits which can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. This phenomenon called superposition together with other weird quantum behaviours like interference and entanglement allows the quantum computer to solve problems classical digital computers cannot tackle. E.g. problems which get exponentially more difficult with the number of parameters. IBM was the first to make quantum computing available to everyone, worldwide through the cloud.
New materials, data processing and machine learning
The enormous potential computing power of quantum computing provides a path to solve economic, business and scientific problems intractable by classic computers. In time, quantum computers will be used in a range of computational tasks, from the analysis of molecules used in the development of new drugs and materials, to organizing air traffic.
Uncertainty about large-scale use
To date, 22 quantum computers are available for use via the IBM cloud. Further improvements are needed, such as increasing the number of qubits and their quality in order to solve large-scale future problems.
“Quantum computers provide a path to solve problems intractable by classic computers.”
Building quantum computers
2016: first publicly accessible quantum computer
Quantum computing has been a key focus for IBM’s Research labs for several decades and during this time has achieved some notable successes. In May 2016, IBM launched the IBM Quantum Experience which empowered researchers to run experiments and algorithms on quantum computers via the cloud. Heike Riel, IBM Fellow and Head of Science & Technology at IBM Research: “We built a complete ecosystem of hardware, software and applications for researchers around the world that needed to be accessible and secure 24/7. We also created educational material to help people learn about quantum mechanics and how to use our quantum processor. It is an exciting time.”
Towards 2019 and a 53 qubits quantum computer in the brand new IBM Q Quantum Computation Center. Since then, IBM has not only improved the computing power of its quantum computers, but also simplified their use. 2017 saw the birth of Qiskit, an open source framework for creating and running programs, and the addition of a 16 qubits processor. And 2019 saw two large milestones. First, IBM took the first big step towards the first commercial quantum computers with the IBM Q System One, which will be coming to Europe via Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in early 2021. And secondly, IBM opened a brand-new IBM Quantum Computation Center in Poughkeepsie (NY) with 22 new machines including a 53 qubits quantum computer for IBM Q network customers, which counts many notable members including CERN, Daimler, Delta Airlines, ExxonMobil and JP Morgan Chase.
However, IBM is not alone in working towards the computers of the future. Other parties and governments worldwide are investing large sums in quantum technology due to the enormous potential of this technology spanning from the development of new materials to more efficient supply chains.
How many qubits do we actually need to deploy quantum computers? Opinions are divided on this, but most agree that in order to solve the most complex problems, a quantum computer easily needs at least a few thousand qubits to remain stable. Why so many? Because qubits are sensitive and lose their superpowers when disturbed by environmental noise.
“Qubits are sensitive. When disturbed, they lose their superpowers.”
James Wootton, researcher at IBM Research in Zurich: “The amount of qubits doesn’t make one computer better than another. It is about the connectivity between the qubits, in other words: the combinations you can make between the qubits, and the lifespan. The longer a qubit lives, the lower your error margins in calculations. It’s also about errors and interference. That is why it is so difficult to compare different quantum computers. The quantum volume is a metric that covers all those capabilities.”
Did you know that qubits are permanently kept at a temperature of -273.14 °C – it’s colder than outer space.
Get involved in quantum technology
While today’s quantum computers are still fairly small, IBM’s Riel believes a breakthrough will happen soon: “Today, 230,000 researchers and programmers are already using our quantum computers – that’s 180 billion experiments, and with every new experiment we learn more. We also founded the IBM Q Network, a community of companies, academic institutions, startups and research labs to accelerate quantum research, develop commercial applications, educate potential users and enable the use of quantum computers.
For example, IBM is working with Daimler AG to develop automotive batteries to make them more powerful, cheaper and last longer than today’s lithium ion batteries. For the financial sector, IBM is experimenting with the Monte Carlo simulation technique and develops quantum algorithms to boost risk analyzes. And ExxonMobil was the first energy company to join the IBM Q Network to research next-generation energy solutions, such as advanced biofuels and CO2 capture and storage.
Heike Riel: “With all our activities around quantum technology, we want to encourage researchers and engineers to delve into this fantastic subject. We want to stimulate companies and governments to think about how quantum computers can help to solve big societal problems; building quantum computing expertise and create broad programs to educate, train, provide technology access, promote research and enable users broadly. This will bring about the breakthrough of the most groundbreaking technology ever closer. ”
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