IBM System Q One. Image credit: IBM
Editor's Note: This story and headline has been edited on 5/24 to remove references to a quantum computer with 58 Qubits, which was originally reported by Digitimes. IBM says this was an error. Digitimes has since corrected its story as well.
Norishige Morimoto, Director of IBM Research in Tokyo and global vice president at IBM, said that IBM intends to commercialize quantum computers within 3-5 years, when he expects quantum computers to outperform supercomputers in specific domains.
IBM to Commercialize Quantum Computers
When speaking at the opening session of IBM think Summit Taipei held on May 22, Morimoto revealed that IBM intends to commercialize its next-generation quantum computers once the company has proven that they can beat supercomputers in finishing certain tasks faster.
Achieving “quantum supremacy,” the moment when quantum computers can beat world’s most powerful supercomputers, is an important milestone for quantum computers, because otherwise switching to an entirely different computing platform may not be justifiable. IBM has recently claimed that its quantum computers double in performance every year (on average), following a “Moore’s Law” of quantum computing of sorts.
The company’s latest System Q One quantum computing system has a 20-qubit quantum processor with a quantum volume of 16. Quantum volume is a quantum computing performance metric IBM believes is more accurate than just using qubits alone. Quantum volume uses a combination of the number of qubits and error rate to determine the real-world performance of a quantum processor. The company is currently giving others free and paid access to its existing quantum computers.
The Road to the Quantum Computing Realm
IBM, Google and others have said before that to achieve quantum supremacy, a quantum computer needs at least 50 qubits. Morimoto said that IBM plans to launch a next-generation quantum computer (with an as-yet-unconfirmed number of qubits) that can outperform supercomputers and thus are suitable for commercialization.
However, don’t expect to own one of these any time soon, as they will require a working environment with a temperature of -273 degrees Celsius to protect the qubits from interference. As such, IBM believes that this sort of quantum computer will work best as a companion to classical supercomputers.
Furthermore, quantum computers will initially be suitable only for narrow AI applications, as they can’t yet handle broader AI applications. According to Morimoto, it will take time for AI to be able to make data inferences through deep learning.
IBM is currently considered one of the leaders in the quantum computing field, but it’s not the only company working on one. Others such as Google, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, Fujitsu, Alibaba, IonQ, Rigetti, and even D-Wave are all competing in the same space and will try to beat each other to the punch on achieving quantum supremacy.