IBM, the hardware-to-software services behemoth, has just announced the offering of its new 20qubit quantum computing platform for commercial purposes on proprietary cloud. IBM has been in the fray since last year when it started offering its 5qubit quantum computing platform on cloud as a service since its development. This announcement of the new 20qubit platform comes as a surprise to many, since IBM had released its 5qubit quantum computing platform just eighteen months ago.
A qubit can be defined as the smallest unit of quantum information. It is the quantum computing counterpart to the binary digits of “1” and “0” in classical computing. The company, along with putting up its 20qubit system on cloud, has also announced that its engineers had successfully managed to build a 50qubit prototype of its quantum computing platform, making it the next milestone in quantum computing. IBM has not made it publicly clear whether it would make its 50qubit platform available for public use on cloud.
The earlier versions of IBM’s quantum computing platforms were always offered for free, albeit to build up a community of users. They were also primarily aimed at educating people on quantum programming and the machine's usage. This new 20qubit platform is the first time that IBM is launching the platform as a commercial service. The cloud backed platform is aimed to go online by the end of the year.
The quantum computing technology area is quite tricky to understand and extremely difficult to master. This is so, as traditional computing machines are built to interpret and process data in zeros and ones in the on/off state whereas quantum computing can live in multiple states.
This very property of quantum computing leads to the creation of an array of possibilities that were never thought possible. These arrays of possibilities require new softwares and systems to be built that would function efficiently in the quantum computing space.
Dario Gil, Vice President IBM Research AI and IBM Q states that increasing the qubit count is just one small part of the story. Increasing the qubit count leads to more complex interactions called “entanglements” between the qubits. A higher qubit count also leads to a higher error rate in interactions.
In this kind of a situation, a machine with a lower qubit count but extremely low error rate would be able to function much more efficiently than one with a higher qubit count. Beaming with satisfaction and pride, he states that the IBM researchers have managed to build a high qubit count system having extremely low error rates. This, he says, will be path breaking for researchers currently constrained by lower computing power available to them.
The ultimate goal of quantum computing is a fault tolerant universal system that automatically fixes errors and has unlimited coherence. Coherence is that small window of time in which the computing machine is active in the quantum computing state before reverting back to the standard binary state. Today’s quantum machines are in the 90 microsecond range. To give you a reference for progression, in the 90s they were at a “couple of nanoseconds”.
IBM sees applications for quantum computing in areas like medicine, drug discovery and materials science as this technology advances and becomes better understood.