IBM to build first commercial quantum computers
IBM has announced that it will start building the first ever commercially available universal quantum computers, called the IBM Q.
Quantum computers are supposed to be massively more powerful than traditional machines.While conventional computers process their data using bits, with information stored in transistors that can either be on or off and are interpreted as values of one and zero, quantum computing works differently. It uses a quantum mechanics principle of super-positione, which allows quantum bits – or “qubits” – to have values of one, zero, or both simultaneously.
The new IBM 50-qubit machines will solve problems where patterns cannot be seen because the data does not exist and the possibilities that need to be explored are too vast and complex to be processed by classical computers.
The IBM Q will enable the user to run algorithms and simulations, as well as explore qubits on the quantum system, which will all be accessed through the IBM Cloud service.
IBM aims to increase the amount of qubits possible to process on the commercial quantum system while constructing it, and plans to collaborate with industry and academia to develop a quicker system.
“IBM is committed to expanding access to quantum systems and their powerful capabilities for the science and business communities,” says Arvind Krishna, director for IBM Research.
This could be a significant step towards bringing quantum computing closer to industrial exploitation and beyond laboratories, says Winfried Hensinger, a computer scientist at the University of Sussex. “Having a roadmap on how to move to commercial systems is very useful, allowing to evaluate time scales and expected processing powers,” he added.
A promising application for quantum computing is the area of chemistry, using the system to analyse complex molecules and predict chemical properties to an advanced level of precision, which could lead to the discovery of new drugs and materials.
Other applications include enhancing data for artificial intelligence and cloud security, as well as improving supply chain and logistics by optimising delivery operations.
“We have a strong interest in how quantum computing will impact the future of manufacturing,” says Nobu Koshiba, president of JSR, a chemical and materials company in Japan. “By having exposure to how quantum computing can provide computational capability to accelerate materials discovery, we believe this technology could have a lasting impact on our industry and provide faster solutions.”
IBM’s current quantum computing platform – the IBM Quantum Experience – has run more than 275,000 experiments for about 40,000 users in more than 100 countries since the company made it commercially available via the internet since May last year.
In the first half of 2017, IBM plans to release a full software development kit on the IBM Quantum Experience for users to build simple quantum applications and software programmes.
Researchers and companies have been trying to build a quantum computer for some time now. Besides IBM, another firm pursuing it is Canada-based D-Wave, the only company with commercial quantum system in use, and which has Google and Nasa among its customers.
However, the two companies appear to approach quantum computing very differently. While IBM wants to develop a true universal quantum computer able to solve any quantum algorithm possible, D-Wave seems to instead want to scale up the number of qubits and ensure that its system can integrate easily with traditional computers. Also, its technology targets only a narrow range of computing problems.