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IBM’s online quantum machine gets faster

IBM has made its quantum computing
system commercially available to businesses and beefed up an existing
system used by the research community.

The firm is hoping to boost the numbers of people able to use such computers.
The machine, based in New York, has been available via the internet since May last year.
Future
applications include the discovery of new materials and medicines as
well as making artificial intelligence much more powerful.
Since the system went online last year, more than 40,000 users have run over 275,000 experiments on it.
While
the system it has made publicly available is currently only as powerful
as a standard laptop, it is an important first step, said IBM scientist
Dr Jerry Chow.
“It is about growing an eco-system of users,
developing a community that can grow and define the software that will
run it,” he explained.
He added that the system now includes an
interface which allows programmers to launch instructions for the
machine using traditional programming languages.
Traditional
computers process all their information using bits – information stored
in tiny transistors that can either be on or off – interpreted as values
of one and zero.
Quantum computing instead takes advantage of a
mechanism called super-positioning that allows quantum bits – or
“qubits” – to have values of one, zero, or both at the same time.

Circuit board

Image copyright
Eyewire

Image caption

Quantum computers use components very different to those in desktop machines

But the real power of quantum computing lies in a
concept known as entanglement – whereby bits can interfere and interact
with each other, creating many states.
Qubits are, by their nature, massively unstable and maintaining even one is tricky.
Most
agree that when quantum computing hits 50 qubits – more powerful than
the most powerful supercomputers currently available – that will be
something of a magic number.
IBM’s quantum computer will now offer simulation of 20 qubits, up from its original five.
“Classical
computers are extraordinarily powerful and will continue to advance and
underpin everything we do in business and society,” said Tom Rosamilia,
senior vice president of IBM Systems.
“But there are many
problems that will never be penetrated by a classical computer. To
create knowledge from much greater depths of complexity, we need a
quantum computer.”
One computing expert who has used IBM’s technology said it showed promise.
“Whilst
it is still relatively limited, it is allowing many of us to gain
practical experience of running quantum algorithms,” said Prof Alan
Woodward from the University of Surrey.
“The recent improvements
are a natural consequence of the community of users expanding and
resulting demand for such improvements.
“It is important to note
that quantum computers have the potential for extraordinary speed
increases but only in certain types of algorithms.
“The correct
time to commercialise such a facility is still open to debate, but there
is a market developing with other companies such as DWave already
selling their form of quantum computer. So, it’s not surprising for IBM
to want to capitalise on its progress.”

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