Economy

IBM says it's reached milestone in quantum computing

IBM says it's reached milestone in quantum computing”

Quantum computing is believed to hold incredible potential, thanks to an architecture that's fundamentally different from that of today's personal computers, smartphones and other computing devices. Whereas classic computers encode information in regular "bits", represented by ones and zeros, quantum computers encode information in "qubits", which can be ones, zeros or both at the same time.

IBM, Google, Intel, and a San Francisco startup called Rigetti are all now racing to build useful quantum systems.

IBM has built an operational prototype 50 qubit processor that will be available in next generation IBM Q systems. A 50-qubit machine can do things that are extremely hard to simulate without quantum technology. This creates all kinds of new programming possibilities and requires new software and systems to build programs that can work with this way of computing. The 20-qubit processor will power IBM Q when it becomes available by the end of 2017, while the more powerful 50-qubit chip is expected to be integrated with the quantum platform sometime next year.

Dario Gil, IBM Research VP of AI and IBM Q, says the increased number qubits is only part of the story. "IBM's team is fantastic and it's clear they're serious about this, but without looking at the details it's hard to comment", he says. Even as recently as past year, they were able to achieve coherence times of 47 and 50 microseconds for the 5 qubit machines. While that doesn't sound like much, it's actually a huge leap forward. Because they use qubits, quantum computers can manipulate multiple combinations of states at once, which makes them far more powerful than their nonquantum cousins, at least for performing a range of advanced computing tasks such as genomic sequencing, materials science research and more. Improvements to error mitigation and to the quality of qubits are our focus for making quantum computing systems useful for practical applications in the near future. "The holy grail is fault-tolerant universal quantum computing". The system IBM has developed is still extremely finicky and challenging to use, as are those being built by others.

It has also been making significant progress toward useful quantum systems, first by making quantum computers accessible through the cloud and developing relevant software tools, and second by showing how even a simple machine can do useful work in fields like chemistry (see "IBM Has Used Its Quantum Computer to Simulate a Molecule-Here's Why That's Big News").

IBM has said that it plans to commercialize quantum computing, a breakthrough that will enable new applications for a variety of workloads. It is also trying to anticipate possible negative consequences of an advanced technology such as the ability to eventually be able to break encryption. Gil says they are working with standards bodies to try and develop post-quantum computing encryption algorithms, and while they are a long way from achieving that, they certainly seem to understand the magnitude of the issues and are trying to mitigate them.



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