IBM Shows Path Forward To A Post-Moore's Law Future With Five-Qubit Quantum Computer

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. 

Follow us on FacebookGoogle+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • none12345
    Id say the title of this article is rather misleading. A path forward in certain fields certainly. For instance statistical analysis. It would be heavily used in my scientific fields.

    Ad agencies would love it as well. More spam that is better able to squeeze dollars out of you. Would be great for crunching all that personal data that is collected about you.

    But, for your average enthusist, they will never be a path forward. Quantum computers give you a probable answer, not an exact answer. And there are many disciplines where a probable answer can not replace an exact answer. For instance it would be bad in the financial world if sometimes 1+1=0 or sometimes 1+1=1231212314411 instead of 1+1 always = 2.

    Id say about the best it would ever be for the average enthusist might be a coprocessor, while the normal computing is done with a classical core, you might for instance have a quantum coprocesser for specific work loads.

    Id say there is not a chance of seeing anything in the consumer space for at least a decade, its hard to predict anything fruther out then that tho.
  • vern72
    I wonder if (when) a quantum computer would ever become practical for the average person.
  • photonboy
    They always seem to bypass the MEMORY issue. Where are you reading and writing to ? That's required to follow a set program, even if it's quantum.

    So where is the quantum memory units? How do you transfer that into the quantum CPU and the result back?

    I've never, EVER, heard a discussion on how that might work.
  • Bricktop
    I wonder if (when) a quantum computer would ever become practical for the average person.
    I'm not sure it will be important for checking your facebook account, but it will apply for mapping the fastest route to your destination.. Most likely that type of processing will remain in the cloud, due to the initial size of quantum computers and the growth of wireless networks. The need for such a computer in your house, may apply with computer graphics or virtual/augmented reality, when some instances of real-time rendering may be more efficiently served by "best guess" values or outcomes than by brute-forcing the exact result. When we start buying iRobots (future terminators) from Apple, quantum computing will aid object and voice recognition, as well as, motor function (for killing humans). Actually, Google is invested heavily in robots, artificial Intelligence, and quantum computing. The future extermination machine of the future might be called Chromebot.
  • BGA___
    "Such quantum computers would be able to break all of today’s public key encryption"

    This is specifically why the US Govt has been dumping money in to quantum computer research like there's no tomorrow. They want that quantum computer to break encryption.
  • grimfox
    I swear I saw an article not too long ago that reported that some company (related to google IIRC) had produced a 1000qubit machine. Maybe that was just something from the rumor mill.

    In response to none12345's comment about the exact answer dilemma. Certainly initially a classical computer is better for basic math in the same way a pen and paper were better than using a computer for basic math initially. As we see progress we will see qubits used more often and for less specialized purposes.
  • punahou1
    True that this can extend Moore's Law but it does not prevent the inevitable fact that silicone based technology has a definite limit in terms of miniaturization. From what we understand today this limit can only be overcome by migrating to an organic based technology. Fortunately Bell Labs is investing in this research.
  • Kamal_9
    The assumption that the an electron-spin qubit (quantum bit) can be both spin-up and spin-down at the same time is based on an incorrect concept of Electron Spin.
  • bit_user
    17918200 said:
    They always seem to bypass the MEMORY issue. Where are you reading and writing to ? That's required to follow a set program, even if it's quantum.
    This actually gets at a point that many here don't seem to grasp.

    Conventional quantum computers excel at searching large combinatorical spaces, but it still takes time. Importantly, setting up the initial state and reading out the answer is also fairly slow, and the whole process often must be repeated. I don't know the details of IBM's tech, but I think it's safe to say that it won't be applicable to any sort of realtime problems.

    So, no, these will not be useful for VR or killer robots, or anything like that.
  • NethJC
    This seems to be a sponsored article on IBMs part. How can they talk about quantum computers without a single mention of D-Wave?
    Like I said - sponsored article....