Several big companies have been working on quantum computers for the past few years, including Google, IBM and Microsoft, as they feel the age of practical quantum computers is fast approaching. IBM seems to be one of the first to create a stable five qubit universal quantum computer, and it’s already allowing developers or anyone interested to play with it over the Internet.
Instead of operating with "bits" (binary digits), which can have a value of either 0 or 1, a quantum computer utilizes "qubits" (quantum bits). Qubits can have a value of 0, 1, or both values at the same time by taking advantage of a quantum mechanic phenomena called "superpositioning." This phenomenon allows quantum computers to perform many more calculations at the same time.
IBM’s five-qubit quantum computer can be accessed through the IBM Cloud from any desktop or mobile device. IBM believes that quantum computers could be the future and could solve problems faster than today’s most powerful supercomputers.
The five-qubit computer is still nowhere close to beating supercomputers at anything today. However, if it can evolve at a pace similar to Moore’s Law, which we’ve seen apply to traditional computers, then within the next two decades, this quantum computer could have thousands of qubits.
That’s when things could get really interesting. Such quantum computers would be able to break all of today’s public key encryption, could help in the discovery of new drugs or materials, and could also train artificial intelligence much faster than existing clusters of GPUs and CPUs, and even faster than future AI training technologies. IBM, for instance, hopes it can use quantum computers to make its Watson AI even smarter in the future. IBM envisions a 50-100 qubit quantum computer within a decade.
“Quantum computers are very different from today’s computers, not only in what they look like and are made of, but more importantly in what they can do. Quantum computing is becoming a reality and it will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today’s computers,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director, IBM Research.
“This moment represents the birth of quantum cloud computing. By giving hands-on access to IBM’s experimental quantum systems, the IBM Quantum Experience will make it easier for researchers and the scientific community to accelerate innovations in the quantum field, and help discover new applications for this technology,” he added.
Moore’s Law for transistors is starting to slow down as we approach the size of atoms and may soon even come to a complete stop (at least in terms of shrinking transistors). From that point forward, quantum computers seem to make sense, although we’re likely to see new chip designs and new computer technologies that will continue to increase the performance we get from our traditional computers for a while longer.
IBM opened up access to its five-qubit quantum computer because it wants companies and universities to start preparing their employees and students for a future of quantum computers. The company said that quantum computers will require a new type of thinking in order to develop new applications that can take advantage of quantum computers.
To access IBM’s Quantum Experience service and find out more information about IBM’s quantum research, head here.
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu.