IBM beats Google by introducing quantum computing as a cloud service

IBM has developed a 5 qubit quantum computer called IBM Quantum Experience that will allows outside programmers and researchers to access its quantum computing platform through cloud to run algorithms and experiments on the processor. The quantum processor is currently housed at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. IBM is offering a programming interface and the ability to run experimental programs on an actual quantum computer.

Jerry Chow, Manager of the Experimental Quantum Computing Group at IBM Research, says that he wants to get them ready for the undetermined point in the future when this unusual kind of cloud computer is ready for practical use. “We want to help people think differently and learn how to program a quantum computer,” says Chow.

Chilled by liquid helium, Chow’s superconducting processor uses quantum physics to avoid rules of everyday reality that restrict the power of conventional computers.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, Inc. says quantum computers are different from conventional computers in a couple of important ways.

“For one, while conventional systems are designed on binary principles (where opening/closing semiconductor gates represents on/off or 0/1) quantum systems utilize “qubits’ which can be on, off or both on and off. In theory, that will allow resulting systems to perform functions on data utilizing phenomena from quantum mechanics, such as superposition and entanglement,” explained King.

IBM, Google, Microsoft, and many academic groups are all trying to develop quantum computers, as they should be able to solve problems that are practically not possible for conventional computers.

The qubits are made with superconducting metals on a silicon chip. A universal quantum computer would pack hundreds of thousands of millions of qubits. The chip announced by IBM uses five qubits. Google’s lead researcher has made a chip that has nine qubits.

IBM further plans to add more qubits and a different processor to the IBM Quantum Experience in future allowing the public to expand their experiments and discover new apps for the technology.

In comparison to traditional computers, a quantum computer can perform any task exponentially faster for multiple important applications including science and business. Other than opening new sides of artificial intelligence, this development in the computing field is expected to lead to the discovery of new pharmaceutical drugs. It is also expected to develop new material science to transform industries and even help search large volumes of data.

“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,” added Arvind.

Besides IBM, other companies including Google and Microsoft are trying to develop quantum computers. David Corey, a researcher at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University Of Waterloo, Canada says that not many research groups can build chips like IBM’s, and they are not usually made available to others beyond select collaborators. And making a chip dependable enough to be available 24/7 online is impressive, he says. “I don’t know any system that shows this robustness.”

IBM’s latest chip would put the company ahead of Google in the race for the universal quantum computer. Earl Joseph, who covers high performance computing for IDC points out there are other such experiments in progress. “This experiment provides the opportunity for a large group of people to start to learn how to program quantum computers, which will help to develop ways to use this new type of technology.”

Joseph added, “NASA Ames and Google are doing some very interesting work. The large home run will be from a more general purpose and large size quantum computer. I think it will be an evolutionary process, with more applications coming online every few years.”

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