IBM scientist Stefan Filipp, takes a closer look at the dilution refrigerator which will keep qubits are temperatures colder than the deepest parts of outer space. Image: IBM Research.
Soon Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t be the only semi-average person who can talk a good quantum computing game.
On Wednesday, IBM unveiled the world’s first cloud-based quantum computing experience. Starting today, regular humans will be able to access real quantum computing hardware based in IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, which means virtually anyone can run quantum computing experiments from the comfort of their lab, office or living room couch.
An IBM Quantum Computing Lab scientist checks out the Quantum Cloud interface. Behind him is an enlarged image of the 5 quibit quantum processor. Image: Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM
Quantum computing is like regular computing in that it can use computational power to help figure things out, but is also completely unlike it. Traditional computers rely on information in bits represented as 1’s and 0’s; things are one or the other, or on or off. In quantum computing, there are quantum bits or qubits that can actually have two states at once (a superposition). It’s a kind of computing that actually better correlates to nature and allows scientists to work on problems at both an exponential and molecular level.
“It gives you access to a much broader and larger space of computations,” said Jerry M. Chow, IBM’s Manager of Experimental Quantum Computing Group. Chow is part of the team bringing Quantum computing to the cloud.
“It’s a web-based platform for public to access to run quantum algorithm and quantum circuits on a real quantum processor in our labs,” said Chow. “We want people to program their own algorithms and learn what it means to do quantum computing.”
Feynman would love this
They will be learning though, on a somewhat reduced scale. First of all, it’s not a true, universal quantum computer that is both exponentially faster than traditional computers and can be programmed to work on virtually any task. And while such a computer might offer up to 100 quantum bits of performance, IBM’s cloud-based quantum computer will have just 5. It’s also just one quantum processor — as opposed to an array. IBM plans to add qubits and even change processor configurations over time.
According to Chow, IBM’s custom-built quantum processor is a silicon wafer etched with super-conducting metal (niobium and aluminum). In order to function as a quantum computer, it has to be super-cooled at all times. The system sits at the bottom of refrigeration system where the temperature is roughly 0.015 degrees above absolute zero.
Since it’s just one processor and the cloud-based quantum computing environment will be open to virtually anyone, Chow’s team has set up a queuing system and even a sort of virtual currency, called Q-Coins. Everyone who registers gets coins and can earn more by completing tutorials. The coins are used to run the tests against the Quantum silicon and get replenished when the experiment is done.
The IBM Quantum Computing Cloud interface includes tabs for a underguide and a place to keep track of your results. Image: IBM ReseARCH
Access to the real quantum computer will also reveal errors or “noise in the system,” which can help programmers refine their quantum algorithms. The environment will also include a simulator that will let you compare your results to those from the hardware or simply practice running error-free quantum algorithms.
The IBM Quantum Computing Experience includes user guides, tutorials and examples. However, it’s not simply designed to educate the world on the possibilities of quantum computing.
“For casual, new person to quantum computing, this is where you can learn through examples. For research community and people who know a bit about this, this is a really high-functioning, high-quality system to test out new ideas, write papers and perform research on,” said Chow.
Put simply, real breakthroughs could happen on this quantum platform and in the cloud.
Process that for minute.
Aspiring quantum computer scientists can access IBM’s Quantum computer here.