IBM Brings Quantum Computing to the Masses

IBM has taken its quantum computing technology to the cloud to enable users to run experiments on an IBM quantum processor.

IBM big data

Big Blue has come a long way, baby. IBM announced it is making quantum computing available on the IBM Cloud to accelerate innovation in the field and find new applications for the technology.

IBM Research announced it is making quantum computing available to members of the public, who can access and run experiments on IBM's quantum processor. This has been about 35 years in the making, with perhaps another decade or more to go before IBM can deliver a universal quantum computer.

In a blog post, Dario Gil, vice president of Science and Solutions at IBM Research, related that in 1981, at a conference co-organized by MIT and IBM, the famous physicist Richard Feynman urged the world to build a quantum computer. Today, IBM is offering access to its quantum computing capabilities to anyone.

According to IBM, quantum computing makes use of quantum physics, also called quantum mechanics, to perform new operations on data or operations outside of the standard models of computation.

"The power of the quantum computer is that it is based on a logic that is not limited merely to on-or-off, true-or-false scenarios," reads a description of the technology on the IBM Research quantum computing site. "Quantum computing has bits, just like any computer. But instead of ones and zeros, quantum bits, or qubits, can represent a one, a zero, or both at once, which is a phenomenon known as superposition. The superposition that occurs in a quantum system is so different to that which occurs in classical systems that it can allow two of these qubits to behave in ways that cannot be explained by the individual components."

IBM says this is the beginning of the quantum age of computing and the company's latest advance toward building a universal quantum computer. A universal quantum computer, once built, has the potential to solve problems that are not solvable with today's classical computers, IBM said. Company researchers have created a quantum processor that users can access via the IBM Cloud onto any desktop or mobile device.

IBM said its cloud-enabled quantum computing platform, called IBM Quantum Experience, will allow users to run algorithms and experiments on the IBM quantum processor. The processor is composed of five superconducting qubits and is housed at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York.

The 5-qubit processor represents the latest advancement in IBM's quantum architecture that can scale to larger quantum systems. It is an approach toward building a universal quantum computer.

A universal quantum computer does not exist today, but IBM envisions medium-sized quantum processors of 50 qubits to 100 qubits to be possible in the next decade, the company said.

However, quantum computing pure-play D-Wave Systems remarked on IBM progress, noting that while IBM's latest move is a good step forward for IBM's program, the company itself notes it will take decades or more for a gate-model quantum computer product to develop into a useful product.

"Other organizations have produced quantum processors with a limited number of qubits like IBM's five qubits, and in fact what IBM announced is similar to other research projects, such as the University of Bristol's 'Quantum in the Cloud,' announced several years ago," according to a post on D-Wave's Website. "Meanwhile, D-Wave productized a 128-qubit processor in 2011, and today our third-generation D-Wave 2X has over 1,000 qubits. More significantly, we have also developed the other technology components needed to build a system, not just a research processor."