IBM has released the world's first-ever commercial quantum computer, the Q System One. However, more progress is needed before it will take over from today's super computers.
Update 4 March, 2019:
IBM has announced that it has achieved the best performance from a quantum computer to date – a scientific milestone that includes the lowest error rates it has ever measured in the highly unstable realm of quantum computing.
According to IBM Q’s research team: Performance was measured via Quantum Volume; a full-system metric that accounts for gate and measurement errors as well as device cross talk and connectivity, and circuit software compiler efficiency.
IBM’s recently unveiled IBM Q System One quantum computer, with a fourth-generation 20-qubit processor, has produced a Quantum Volume of 16, roughly double that of the current IBM Q 20-qubit IBM Q Network devices, which have a Quantum Volume of 8.
The results mean performance has doubled every year since 2017. The results will be presented at the 2019 American Physical Society (APS) meeting today (4 March, 2019).
If Quantum Volume follows a pseudo-Moore’s Law for Quantum computing and doubles annually for the next decade or so, then quantum computing will be more practical and reach the desired Quantum Advantage status.
Quantum Advantage refers to the point where quantum applications deliver significant advantages to classical computers.
Original article 20 February, 2019:
IBM wants to make its Q System One quantum computer a commercial device that can be rented for use in research by external laboratories and companies.
The Q System One was unveiled at CES 2019, as “the world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use”. IBM have stated they plan to open the first IBM Q Quantum Computation Centre for commercial clients later this year in Poughkeepsie, New York.
But what is quantum computing? We’ve attached a video below that explains all:
IBM hopes that one day their Q systems will be able to tackle problems seen as “too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle”. Some examples of possible future applications for quantum computing include finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and optimising fleet operations for deliveries, or finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments.
According to Arvind Krishna, the senior vice president of Hybrid Could and director of IBM Research: “The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialisation of quantum computing. This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”
The quantum computer is the next step for IBM Q, which aims to introduce programmable universal quantum computing to the public through the cloud-based IBM Q Experience and the IBM Q Network.
Last year, the Q Network chose eight start-ups as collaborators. One of these eight was Q-CTRL, a quantum technology company from the University of Sydney.
Q-CTRL founder and CEO, Professor Michael J. Biercuck, described Q System One as a major step forward in quantum computing.
“The Q System One demonstrates that a functional (though limited) early-stage quantum computer can be engineered with custom components such that it functions in a setting different than a precision research facility,” he says.
“As we move towards commercial-scale quantum computing, moving these machines outside of research environments such that they operate semi-autonomously with minimal expert intervention is a critical step for the technology. IBM Q System One is a major and important step in that direction”.
The Q System One is a 20-qubit machine and is housed in a nine-foot square borosilicate glass box. The machine was designed in collaborations with Map Project Office, Universal Design Studio, and Goppion. The latter is a manufacturer of display cases that protect pieces of historical importance such as the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
Biercuck says Q-CTRL aims to assist with the Q System project by providing solutions within the hardware error sphere.
“The field collectively has a number of challenges to overcome, largely related to hardware error,” he says.
“Fortunately Q-CTRL provides solutions that can able an acceleration of efforts and bring forward the threshold of having the first useful quantum computers. Alongside our solutions, however, teams will be making continued advancements in hardware performance and system size, and teams will be looking to realize so-called Quantum Error Correction. This is a special algorithm run on quantum computing hardware that can help identify and correct for any errors that slip through, and is considered an essential element in large scale quantum computing”.
Applications for quantum computing
Speaking on some of the current customers of IBM Q, Biercuck says the practical applications of quantum computing could include improved materials and drug discover, artificial intelligence, financial services and resource efficiency.
“Quantum computers are believed to be useful for a wide variety of problems in chemistry and materials science because the underlying problems are fundamentally quantum mechanical,” he says.
“These are potentially high value applications – imagine ExxonMobil learning how to improve the efficiency of fuel combustion using a quantum computer. This is something my team at The University of Sydney is working on, but is a great example of the kinds of real-world problems that can potentially be impacted via quantum computing”.
The IBM Q Experience is free and available to the public. It has more than 100,000 users who have been responsible for conducting over 6.7 million experiments, with over 130 third-party research papers published.
Another company interested in the work IBM is doing in Quantum computing is Barclays Bank. In December last year, Barclays joined the IBM Q Network, which gives the bank access to IBM’s quantum processors to run experiments and access to IBM’s technical experts and researchers on quantum computing software.
“We are keen to explore quantum computing by running experiments on actual quantum processors, rather than just using quantum simulators running on a classical processor,” said Lee Braine of the Investment Bank CTO Office.
However, as IBM’s quantum computer currently only supports 20 qubits, its applications are limited. In addition, quantum computing systems can operate for only brief periods before they lose information into the environment via a process known as quantum decoherence.
“For quantum computing to be more practical in banking, the number of qubits will need to increase, and the quantum coherence time will need to increase,” Braine said. “Fortunately, ongoing research in quantum computing hardware has been steadily improving those two aspects.”