IBM to Build Worlds First Universal Quantum Computer

IBM 5-qubit Processor (quantum computer)
IBM 5-qubit Processor

Quantum computing is the next big thing in computer science and IT. A few decades ago, quantum computing was completely theory. If it existed, it did only in the minds of quantum physicists like R. Feynman who was crazy enough to even think of it. Since then, quantum theory has grown and quantum computers have become a reality. Quantum computers represent a quantum leap in technology and computational power. IBM, D-Wave, Microsoft, and Google and others are at the forefront of this new technology. IBM, in particular, has embarked on an ambitious program to build a universal IBM quantum computer.

Quantum computer

Quantum computing is a complete paradigm shift in computing. Unlike classical computers which use binary digits (bits), quantum computers make use of quantum bits (qubits). Qubits exhibit some “strange” quantum mechanical phenomena like superposition and entanglement. Quantum superposition means a qubit apart from being either a 1 or 0 could be both at the same time. Quantum entanglement means qubits in a superposition can have an influence on each other state. With these weird properties, quantum computers are able to achieve formidable performances. Since nature is fundamentally quantum, quantum computers are thus in-line with nature itself. They will enhance our understanding of the physical world and its strange behavior.

Quantum computer application

Quantum computing will open a new world of possibilities and opportunities. They will be able to find solutions to problems that up to now were too complex for classical computers. Quantum computers will power new and exciting discoveries as we see things like never before. With classical computers, we model problems to suit particular cases of interest before solving them. But quantum computers will be able to solve real-world problems. They may enlighten us on the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions. This will pave the way for the discovery of new medicines and materials and more.

The potential of quantum computers is beyond imagination. They are completely different from what we have known up to now with classical computers. Like for every new technology through history, we are only at the beginning of the journey. Quantum computers are only in their infancy. The capabilities and potential of quantum computers can only be imagined. IBM aims to be a leader in the discovery and exploration of this new and exciting quantum world.

IBM Quantum Experience

Last year, IBM launched the IBM Quantum Experience. The platform allows the public to connect to IBM’s 5-qubit quantum computer through the IBM cloud and run experiments. Both scientists and amateurs can play and experiment with IBM’s Cloud-based quantum computer. IBM is working with some international institutions to establish the IBM Quantum Experience as an educational tool. As of today, the IBM Quantum Experience has had more than 40,000 users. It has run over 275,000 experiments and yielded 15 third-party research papers. Recently, the IBM Quantum Experience was upgraded to handle up to 20-qubits. IBM also added a new API and will soon release a complete SDK (Software Development Kit). With this, developers will be able to write programs for the quantum computer using usual scripting languages like Python. With this, no prior knowledge of quantum physics will be required to develop quantum applications.

Universal quantum computer

IBM recently announced its initiative to build the world’s first commercial universal quantum computers. IBM intends to build 50-qubits quantum systems. This may seem small compared to D-Wave’s specialized 2000-qubits quantum annealing computer. But universal quantum computers are more performant and have a wider range of applications. They are capable of performing the most complex operations. A 50-qubits quantum computer will have enough power to start solving some serious problems says IBM. They can be applied in medicine (drug discovery), material science, research, logistics, machine learning, finance. To achieve this ambitious goal, IBM counts on decades of research efforts in quantum technology to propel it in the quantum world. IBM has also partnered with Samsung, Honda, Hitachi Metals, Canon, and Nagase to create quantum applications for the quantum computer. These applications will be designed to exploit the huge potential of quantum systems.

The future is hybrid

All these may seem like predicting doom for classical computers. In fact, presently there are powerful classical computers which are able to solve most problems for which we have enough data. While quantum computers will find solutions to problems for which we have no data. A combination of both will be excellent for humanity in its never-ending quest for answers. Quantum computers will open a new era of technological innovation and scientific discovery but that will not mean the end of classical computers.

Quantum computers have a long way to go

Back to earth, you should not expect to walk into a store someday and buy a quantum computer to take home. A quantum computer is an extremely complex and sophisticated piece of technology that even experts have a hard time operating. Qubits are very fragile and need low -very low- temperatures for proper operation. Thus the immediate environment of quantum chips is extremely cold (colder than outer space). Plus, the technology is so delicate, so much so that even noise, electromagnetic waves or heat could disrupt its operation. The best way then for the general public to have access to the universal quantum computers will be through the cloud. IBM’s ultimate goal is to build universal computers with thousands of qubits.

At a conference in 1981, Quantum Physicist Richard Feynman (Nobel Laureate) said: “nature is quantum, and if you want to simulate nature, you better build a quantum computer”. Sure, at the time it must have sounded like a futuristic statement by some smart guy. But today, IBM, Google, D-Wave, and others are on track to making quantum computers a reality. We can hardly imagine all that a quantum computer will be capable of. No one ever imagined the scale of application of computers when they first appeared. The same thing is happening to the quantum computer and it makes it all the more exciting.


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