IBM Quantum Experience Opens Quantum Cloud Computing To The Public

  • IBM Research is making quantum computing available on the public cloud to accelerate innovation.
  • According to IBM, quantum computing will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today’s computers.
  • IBM is racing towards building a universal quantum computer, which could be developed "in a handful of years.".

IBM Research announced that it is making quantum computing available to the public through the cloud. The cloud-enabled quantum computing platform, called IBM Quantum Experience, will allow users to run algorithms and experiments on IBM's quantum processor, work with the individual quantum bits (qubits), and explore tutorials and simulations around what might be possible with quantum computing.

The quantum processor, housed at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in New York, is composed of five superconducting qubits and represents the latest advancement in IBM’s quantum architecture that can scale to larger quantum systems. According to the company, IBM's quantum processor is the leading approach towards building a universal quantum computer.

"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."

We often report about developments in the emergent quantum computer industry, considered by experts and analysts as one of the key technology sectors of the next decade. Quantum computers, which contain information in quantum bits - qubits - that can be in a quantum superposition of zero and one states, could process information much faster than today's computers by exploiting subtle physical phenomena such as quantum entanglement.

The theoretical peak performance of quantum computers increases very fast with the number of qubits - but so does the engineering challenge of building practical operational high-performance quantum processors, overcoming qubit instability and sensitivity to environmental noise. The development of algorithms and software tailored to quantum computing is another important challenge, which IBM is directly addressing with this initiative.

In 2015 IARPA, the research arm of US intelligence, launched a research program to overcome the current practical limitations of quantum computing, which included a multi-year research grant for IBM to advance toward practical quantum computers.

“We are at a turning point where quantum computing is moving beyond theory and experimentation to include engineering and applications,” said Krishna. “Quantum computing promises to deliver exponentially more speed and power not achievable by today’s most powerful computers with the potential to impact business needs on a global scale.”

"The IBM Quantum Experience represents the birth of quantum cloud computing, offering students, researchers, and general science enthusiasts hands-on access to IBM’s experimental cloud-enabled quantum computing platform," notes the IBM Quantum Experience website. "The results of more than 35 years of IBM Quantum Computing research are now available for exploration at the click of a button."

IBM Research 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, which embraces the quantum world and how it works. To try the system out, researchers and quantum computing enthusiasts can apply for an invitation on IBM's Bluemix cloud computing site.

Jerry Chow, who leads IBM’s quantum computing group at the Thomas J. Watson research center, said that IBM wants to get programmers and researchers ready for the undetermined point in the future when quantum cloud computing is ready for practical use, MIT Technology Review reports. "We want to help people think differently and learn how to program a quantum computer," said Chow.

Chow’s team recently published a research paper describing a new quantum chip, which would put IBM ahead of Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL) in the race for a universal quantum computer which is able to tackle complex, real-world tasks. Chow said that his team is working to scale IBM's quantum processor from 5 to 50 qubits, which according to experts would permit solving computational problems immensely difficult and perhaps practically impossible for conventional machines. "We do believe that 50 qubits is possible in the next handful of years," said Chow.

Other leaders in the emerging quantum computing space include Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and the private company D-Wave, which could either go public or be acquired by one of the tech giants.

IBM also announced a Research Frontiers Institute to accelerate innovation by allowing members of the institute, such as Samsung, JSR and Honda, to become familiar with quantum computing and begin the development of commercial applications.

Forbes notes that IBM’s announcement ushers in a new era for cloud computing. Before today, we used the cloud to access greater capability at lower cost. With universal quantum computers in the cloud, anyone will be able to access capabilities that virtually no one - even large firms and sovereign nations - could before. "That really is something truly new and different," concludes Forbes.

Besides forming and training future researchers and programmers, it seems likely that IBM intends to experiment with cloud infrastructures and interfaces for future commercial initiatives in quantum computing. It's a long bet - operational quantum computers aren't expected to arrive before the next decade - but one that could pay off handsomely if quantum computing becomes the Next Big Thing. Investors should continue to consider IBM stock as a buy-and-hold.

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