IBM Looks to the Cloud for Quantum Computing

IBM scientists have built a quantum computer system that users can access through the cloud on any desktop or mobile device to run algorithms and experiments. It’s called the IBM Quantum Experience and it’s powered by quantum processors with five superconducting qubits.

The system’s quantum information is very fragile, according to IBM, and needs to be protected from any errors that can result from heat and electromagnetic radiation. Signals are therefore sent in and out of a helium-3 cryogenic dilution refrigerator. It has several cold plates that all sit at different temperatures. The coldest, at 15 mK, is the location where the system processes quantum information. An additional pulse tube compressor, running a closed cycle of helium-4, helps keep the system cold.

IBM believes quantum computing is the future of computing and has the potential to solve certain problems that are impossible to solve on today’s supercomputers. It envisions medium-sized quantum processors of 50-100 qubits to be possible in the next decade, a stepping stone towards building a universal quantum computer.

A universal quantum computer could be programmed to perform any computing task and will be exponentially faster than classical computers for a number of important applications for science and business. But even a quantum computer built of just 50 qubits could outperform today’s supercomputers, according to IBM researchers, reflecting the tremendous potential of this technology. The community of quantum computer scientists and theorists is working to harness this power, and applications in optimization and chemistry will likely be the first to demonstrate quantum speed-up.

“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,” says Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of 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.”

With Moore’s Law running out of steam, quantum computing will be among the technologies that could usher in a new era of innovation across industries. This leap forward in computing, according to IBM, could lead to the discovery of new pharmaceutical drugs and completely safeguard cloud computing systems. It could also unlock new facets of artificial intelligence, develop new materials science to transform industries and search large volumes of big data.

The IBM team says it has made a number of engineering advances both at the device level and in the electronic controls to give IBM Quantum Experience users unprecedented and reliably high quality performance in this five-qubit processor.

Coupled with software expertise from the IBM Research ecosystem, the team has built a dynamic user interface on the IBM Cloud platform that allows users to easily connect to the quantum hardware via the cloud. The team sees the introduction to the public of this complete quantum computing framework as just the start of a new user community.

In the future, users will have the opportunity to contribute and review results in the community hosted on the IBM Quantum Experience and IBM scientists will be directly engaged to offer more research and insights on new advances. IBM plans to add more qubits and different processor arrangements to the IBM Quantum Experience over time so users can expand their experiments and help uncover new applications for the technology.