IBM has unveiled its first quantum computer system designed for commercial use, which will allow customers to perform quantum calculations over the Internet. The device is not yet capable of outperforming classical computers, but it does look like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie with its sleek design and simple name – IBM’s Q System One.
The computer is encased in an airtight borosilicate glass cube with 2.7-meter (9-foot) sides. It is kept at an extremely low temperature in an isolated environment, which is necessary for this kind of tech. Quantum computers don’t work on regular bits (the one and zeros) but with qubits, particular quantum states that can harness quantum properties such as superposition.
Although powerful for calculations, they are extremely fragile with most qubit setups lasting a fraction of a second. These quantum states are susceptible to interference from temperature fluctuations, electromagnetic fields, etc. The system will use 20 qubits in quantum hardware that's designed to be stable and capable of auto-calibration to achieve correct calculations. It will also use classical computations to allow for hybrid quantum algorithms as well as secure cloud access. This is crucial given that those interested in using the device would do so remotely.
The 20 qubits of the Q System One is a significant number but not nearly enough to reach the so-called quantum supremacy. That’s when quantum computers will be able to conduct calculations that ordinary machines cannot. The future of quantum computers could lead to breakthroughs in science, medicine, and cybersecurity, and their computational capability will be without rivals. However, we are not there yet. Many estimate that you’d need at least 50 qubits to achieve that.
While Q System One won’t change the world just yet, having a commercial quantum computer does give us something valuable at this stage: an understanding of how these machines work hands-on, their technological limits, and what we can anticipate. The Q System One is also expected to have a significantly smaller downtime than more “traditional” architectures.
Quantum computers have the advantage that their computing power grows exponentially: two qubits have four possible states, 3 qubits have eight states, and 150 qubits will have more states than atoms on Earth.