By Dom Galeon
In Brief Earlier today, IBM announced a 50-quantum bit (qubit) quantum computer, the largest in the industry so far. As revolutionary as this development is, IBM’s 50-qubit machine is still far from a universal quantum computer.
At the IEEE Industry Summit on the Future of Computing in Washington D.C. on Friday, IBM announced the development of a quantum computer capable of handling 50 qubits (quantum bits). This breakthrough puts IBM on the cutting edge of quantum computing research, as a 50-qubit machine is so far the largest and most powerful quantum computer ever built.
Seen by experts as the future of advanced computing, a quantum computer performs rather differently compared to traditional computers. Instead of processing information using binary bits of 0s and 1s, a quantum computer uses qubits, which can simultaneously be a 0 and/or a 1. This is made possible by the quantum effects known as entanglement and superposition.
Aside from their 50-qubit machine, IBM also has a 20-qubit quantum computing system thatâ€™s accessible to third-party users through their cloud computing platform. IBM managed to maintain the quantum state for both systems for a total of 90 microseconds. That may seem short â€” because it is â€” but itâ€™s already a record feat in this growing industry, where one of the biggest challenges is sustaining the life of qubits.
â€œWe are really proud of this; itâ€™s a big frickinâ€™ deal,â€ IBMâ€™s director for AI and quantum computing Dario Gil, who made Fridayâ€™s announcement, told theMIT Technology Review.
A Step Closer
IBM has been makingsignificant advances in quantum computing ever since their researchers helped to create the field of quantum information processing. But they arenâ€™t the only one in on the race to build working quantum computers. Google and Intel are also developing their own quantum computing systems, and San Francisco-based startup Rigetti wants to revolutionize the field. Meanwhile, Canadian quantum computing company D-Wave has already developed a couple of quantum computers which have been used by NASA and Google.
A 50-qubit machine can perform extremely difficult computational tasks, but with Google suggesting thatthis many qubits could outclass the most powerful supercomputers, IBMâ€™s machine isnâ€™t yet ready for widespread, commercial, or personal use. Like all of todayâ€™s quantum computers, IBMâ€™s 50- and 20-qubit systems still require highly specialized conditions to operate.
Furthermore, as University of Maryland professor Andrew Childs pointed out to MIT Tech Review, IBM hasnâ€™t yet published the details of their new machine in a peer-reviewed journal. â€œIBMâ€™s team is fantastic and itâ€™s clear theyâ€™re serious about this, but without looking at the details itâ€™s hard to comment,â€ he said, adding that more qubits doesnâ€™t necessarily translate to a leap in computational ability. â€œThose qubits might be noisy, and there could be issues with how well connected they are.â€
At the very least, this development is bringing us one step closer to a future where quantum computing transforms how we process information and helps us to solve many of the worldâ€™s most difficult problems. IBM is set on making their quantum computer work, and theyâ€™re expected to announce an upgrade to their quantum cloud software today. â€œWeâ€™re at world record pace. But weâ€™ve got to make sure non-physicists can use this,â€ Gil told the MIT Tech Review.
By Dom Galeon