If you've been dying to run some math on a dinky toy quantum computer, IBM may have something for you

Well, we all have to start somewhere: Rentable Q machine has just 20 qubits


IBM today claimed it will shortly sell the world's first commercial quantum computer – or, more accurately, calculation time on it.

The IBM Q machine has been years in the making, and is an extremely specialized bit of equipment, requiring the environment around it to be very tightly controlled to work properly.

Pretty much all quantum computers up until now have been run in research laboratories due to relying on precisely controlled conditions. IBM claims the Q's unique and custom design allows it to run outside such specialized and restrictive environments, allowing it to offer next-generation computing on a commercial basis to a wide range of users.

IBM has shared few details on the actual specs of the Q beyond the fact it is contained within a nine-foot square box designed by the same people who built housing for the Mona Lisa in Paris and the Crown Jewels in London. Based on past announcements, the IBM Q is a 20-qubit machine. This represents a step forward in quantum computing power, though it is not enough to be that useful.

Last month, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated it would be ten years or more before the number of qubits available and the quality of their calculations is good enough for commercial deployment. Intel agreed, saying you'd need a million or more qubits to be commercially relevant, and that such technology was seven to ten years away.

The new frontier

Quantum computing is a little hard to explain. While today's computers use bits of zeros and ones to carry out decisions and math, quantum computers exploit the superposition of quantum bits, or qubits, to perform calculations. Here's a gentle introduction to the technology, from the University of Waterloo in Canada:

Youtube Video

Boffins are confident that quantum computers could start solving problems that are beyond the reach of even the most powerful conventional computers. That ranges from predicting with far greater precision natural events like storms or earthquakes to developing new drugs to potentially decrypting encrypted communications (again in a decade or so).

Google's Bristlestone quantum processor

'Quantum supremacy will soon be ours!', says Google as it reveals 72-qubit quantum chip

READ MORE

The hard part in producing a quantum computer is making it reliable: the qubits that make it so powerful lose their properties within 100 microseconds – and that time falls off significantly with any introduction of vibrations or temperature change. Hence the need for the Q's special box of half-inch thick borosilicate glass that forms an airtight enclosure.

All the components within the IBM Q are carefully isolated from one another to limit vibrations, and the result, according to IBM, is "quantum hardware designed to be stable and auto-calibrated to give repeatable and predictable high-quality qubits." In other words, something that can be used reliably and relatively usefully for commercial purposes.

It is thus a highly engineered piece of kit. By saying it will make the Q commercially available, even if it is far off a fully fledged quantum computer, IBM is trying to signal its lead in a market that could soon be worth billions of dollars. It is competing with a number of other companies including US-based Rigetti and Canada’s D-Wave.

Pay to play

To be clear, you won't be able to buy your own quantum computer, though you will be able to pay to run calculations on it. IBM has not given a date for when its IBM Q will be available. Nor, crucially, a price tag for its computing power. But given that even the idea of a quantum computer was a theoretical possibility 50 years ago, it is nonetheless remarkable that IBM says it can pull one together and rent it out.

The tech giant put out some sexy pics of the IBM Q looking like an alien transportation machine though in reality it will likely look much uglier and more functional. Not that any of us will get a chance to see it.

In addition, Blue Big said it will open its first Quantum Computation Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, at some point this year, for commercial clients to use the technology. IBM has run a free "IBM Q Experience" since 2016 during which millions of experiments have been run, using simulators and limited five-qubit hardware, over the internet, and more than 100 research papers published with Q results, we're told.

IBM also has a full-stack, open-source quantum software development kit to create and run quantum computing programs. Something that will start getting serious attention when its new computing resources go online. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Protonmail celebrates Swiss court victory exempting it from telco data retention laws

    Doesn't stop local courts' surveillance orders, though

    Encrypted email provider Protonmail has hailed a recent Swiss legal ruling as a "victory for privacy," after winning a lawsuit that sees it exempted from data retention laws in the mountainous realm.

    Referring to a previous ruling that exempted instant messaging services from data capture and storage laws, the Protonmail team said this week: "Together, these two rulings are a victory for privacy in Switzerland as many Swiss companies are now exempted from handing over certain user information in response to Swiss legal orders."

    Switzerland's Federal Administrative Court ruled on October 22 that email providers in Switzerland are not considered telecommunications providers under Swiss law, thereby removing them from the scope of data retention requirements imposed on telcos.

    Continue reading
  • Japan picks AWS and Google for first gov cloud push

    Local players passed over for Digital Agency’s first project

    Japan's Digital Agency has picked Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud for its first big reform push.

    The Agency started operations in September 2021, years after efforts like the UK's Government Digital Service (GDS) or Australia's Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). The body was a signature reform initiated by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who spent his year-long stint in the top job trying to curb Japan's reliance on paper documents, manual processes, and faxes. Japan's many government agencies also operated their websites independently of each other, most with their own design and interface.

    The new Agency therefore has a remit to "cut across all ministries" and "provide services that are driven not toward ministries, agency, laws, or systems, but toward users and to improve user-experience".

    Continue reading
  • Singaporean minister touts internet 'kill switch' that finds kids reading net nasties and cuts 'em off ASAP

    Fancies a real-time crowdsourced content rating scheme too

    A Minister in the Singapore government has suggested the creation of an internet kill switch that would prevent minors from reading questionable material online – perhaps using ratings of content created in real time by crowdsourced contributors.

    "The post-COVID world will bring new challenges globally, including to us in the security arena," said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at a Tuesday ceremony to award the city-state's 2021 Defense Technology Prize.

    "For operations, the SAF (Singapore Armed Force) has to expand its capabilities in the digital domain. Whether for administrative or operational purposes, I think that we will need to leverage technology to the maximum," he declared.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021