IBM has revealed an extremely impressive new quantum processor called Eagle. It contains a massive 127 functional qubits, finally breaking the 100-qubit milestone in scaling quantum processors to a practical capacity. Eagle is merely a prototype and is not attempting to crush conventional computers in any algorithmic battles just yet, but the research is a promising development in the race towards a useful quantum computer.
“The arrival of the 'Eagle' processor is a major step towards the day when quantum computers can outperform classical computers at meaningful levels,” said Dr Darío Gil, Senior Vice President and director of research at IBM, reports Tom’s Hardware.
“Quantum computing has the power to transform nearly every sector and help us tackle the biggest problems of our time.”
The basis of a quantum processor is the qubit, a basic unit of quantum information that can assume more states than a traditional computer. The simplest way of explaining it is by imagining an 8-bit computer versus an 8-qubit computer: in the conventional system, where each bit can either be 0 or 1, you could have 00000000-11111111 and any combination in between. In an 8-qubit system, you could theoretically have 00000000-99999999. As such, each qubit added to a processor represents a profound leap in capability and potential processing power.
Unfortunately, quantum computers suffer a rather high error rate. In response, quantum processors often have to allocate a number of functional qubits to error checking and resolution – and even then, the error rate remains a problem for making a practical quantum computer.
Eagle builds upon previous IBM quantum processor designs, almost doubling the qubit count of their previous iteration, Hummingbird. It utilizes IBM’s "heavy hexagonal" qubit layout, featuring operational qubits arranged in a honeycomb-like lattice with an additional qubit on each edge. The heavy-hex layout is the design for all of IBM’s currently developing processors, including the 1,000+ qubit Condor processor concept. IBM states that the heavy-hex design reduces the number of errors associated with interference between qubits.
The company is now on-target for their roadmap, and hopes to triple the qubits in one processor by next year, up to the 433-qubit Osprey concept. Condor will then arrive in 2023, breaking the 1,000-qubit mark, if all goes to plan.
Quantum computers are making leaps and bounds recently, with Chinese scientists creating a processor they claimed to be 60,000 times faster than conventional supercomputers at completing a specialist task. It is important to note that quantum processors are extremely limited in their capacity to complete tasks in their current form, and are far from practicality just yet, but the increasing scale of each chip could lead to such a milestone within the decade.