IBM Unveils the Road Map for Commercial Quantum Computer Systems


By: Jeff Bertolucci|


The quantum computer could very well be the holy grail of computing, as Public Radio International highlights. This futuristic-sounding tech is an advanced machine capable of finding solutions to problems too complex for today’s conventional systems. But rather than a technology relegated into the distant future, cloud-based quantum computing could help solve major science questions within a few years, as Bill Gates predicted in a recent “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.

IBM is taking a big step in this direction by launching an ambitious initiative to build commercially available, universal quantum computing systems. The IBM Quantum (Q) systems and services will be delivered via the IBM Cloud platform. Here’s a look at the next wave of computing.

50 Qubits

IBM intends to build a commercially available quantum computer for research and business applications that can reinvent the way computing is done. As reported by Computerworld, IBM aims to achieve this vision by building commercial Q systems with 50 qubits in the next few years — 10 times the size of the five-qubit system it houses today — to demonstrate capabilities that far exceed today’s classical computers.

So what is a qubit, and why does this enhancement matter? Well, to understand what a qubit is, consider first how today’s systems work: Classical computers encode information in bits that take the value of 1 or 0 and act as on/off switches to drive computer functions. By comparison, quantum computers are based on qubits, or subatomic quantum bits. These operate according to superposition and entanglement, two key principles of quantum physics, IBM explains.

Each qubit can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. This phenomenon is called a superposition, and qubits in a superposition can be correlated with each other in what’s called entanglement. Because qubits can be in multiple states at once, they can act as sophisticated switches that enable a quantum computer to perform more calculations in parallel — and solve problems too complex for classical systems to tackle. Successful implementation of this would be a huge step forward in technology.

Quantum Apps

IBM plans to work with industry partners to develop applications that employ Q system capabilities. For instance, the field of chemistry is a promising area of study that may even lead to the discovery of new materials and medicines, noted in an IBM press release.

“Following Watson and block chain, we believe quantum computing will provide the next powerful set of services delivered via the IBM Cloud platform,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of hybrid cloud and director for IBM Research. He also added that quantum systems promise “to be the next major technology that has the potential to drive a new era of innovation across industries.”

The Quantum Experience

IBM also released a new API for its Quantum Experience site, enabling developers and programmers — including those who lack deep knowledge of quantum physics — to start building interfaces between classical computers and IBM’s five-qubit, cloud-based quantum system. The site allows users to connect to IBM’s quantum processor via the IBM Cloud, run algorithms, conduct experiments and study tutorials and simulations that explore the potential of quantum computing.

The Quantum Experience also features an upgraded simulator capable of modeling circuits with up to 20 qubits, the company said. And in the first half of 2017, IBM plans to release a full software development kit for developers to build simple quantum applications.

“IBM has invested over decades to growing the field of quantum computing, and we are committed to expanding access to quantum systems and their powerful capabilities for the science and business communities,” Krishna concludes. In the end, the quantum computer promises to enhance technology’s problem-solving capabilities for the better of business, research and humanity.

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.