IBM has been a key part of computer history, and it seems like the company is about to make history once again. In a blog in 2020, the head of quantum computing at IBM announced that a 1000 Qubit quantum computer could be ready by 2023.
Quantum computers are a whole league of their own. Currently, they aren’t as advanced as some had hoped them to be.
IBM’s biggest quantum processor is 65 qubit as of 2020, while the fastest in the world is Google’s, coming in at 72 qubit. So you can see that exceeding 1000 qubit is quite a stretch, but the company believes they will be there by 2023.
Before we dig more into this exciting news, let’s learn a bit about quantum computing.
What is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computers are different from regular computers we use as they use quantum physics for computations as well as storage. In these computers, the basic unit of memory is a quantum bit or qubit.
Qubits are based on physical systems, unlike binary bits, which are basically alternating pulses of electricity. The qubits can be an orientation of a photon or a movement of an electron. The highlight of this system and what makes it better than classical computing is that qubits can represent different arrangements at the same time.
For instance, eight qubits can represent all the numbers from zero to 255 at once. This phenomenon is called superposition.
Quantum computing has the ability to surpass even the most powerful supercomputers in the world. These computers are very useful for certain tasks that may require very complex computations or storing very large amounts of data. Think of these as the next big supercomputer based on physics.
IBM’s 1000 Qubit Quantum Computer
As IBM’s head of quantum computing Jay Gambetta lays out, the 1000 qubit computer could be the turning point for such computers. It’s a giant leap, of course, considering they plan to reach 433 qubits by 2022. That means they’ll have to double the capacity by the following year.
The possibly fastest qubit processor has been codenamed ‘Condor.’ In the blog, he said, “We are releasing the roadmap that we think will take us from the noisy, small-scale devices of today to the million-plus qubit devices of the future.”
Currently, quantum computers do face a lot of challenges that will hinder their commercialization until they are resolved. For instance, even a slight disturbance can mess up the calculations, which is something that you can’t ignore. This drawback can be very damaging when it comes to mission-critical applications.
What IBM is dealing with when increasing the qubit capacity is not just adding more qubits to the processor but at the same time dealing with other performance flaws. Currently, the error rate for their flagship quantum computer is one percent. However, with Condor, they plan on reducing it to a mere 0.0001 percent.
Their biggest competitor in this race to each quantum computing supremacy is Google, which as of now has the highest qubits processor. Google has even bigger ambitions, with its quantum computer going as high as a million qubits by the end of this decade.
The blog lays down the roadmap for the goal articulately. It will be an exponential growth as they’ll have to double the capacity every subsequent year, and with 2021 half over, they only have a year to reach the proposed 1127 qubit mark.
They likely revealed the plan so their backers can trust them, but clearly, it’s a big undertaking. However, IBM has been a pioneer when it comes to computers, so expectations were already high.
Refrigeration for 1000 Plus Qubit Quantum Computer
Another challenge for this new 1000 qubit quantum computer is that commercial dilution refrigerators currently don’t have the capacity to provide the cooling such a computer would need. To address that, IBM is also making a super-fridge and calling it the Goldeneye.
It’s a dilution refrigerator that will be the biggest in the world right now. However, they have made it for handling up to a million qubit computers, which shows they have ambitions similar to that of Google. Only time will tell if that’s ever going to be a reality, but the first step is reaching that 1000 qubit milestone.
Right now, the researchers and engineers at IBM are more focused on increasing the individual qubits and bringing down the not so ignorable error rate. However, once these difficulties are overcome, they can focus on enhancing the architecture and performance of the machine.
In simpler words, reaching the 1000 qubit mark and bringing the error rate down to nearly zero can finally open up quantum computing to commercial applications. With the speed that IBM is working on this computer, it wouldn’t be surprising that we start seeing these computers in commercial use by the end of this decade.
There are many possible applications of quantum computers in varying industries. For instance, it could be the next big thing in cybersecurity as it may break encryption schemes.
It may also prove helpful in drug research and development, traffic optimization, weather forecasting, and, of course, artificial intelligence (AI).
IBM or Google aren’t the only companies focusing on quantum computing. Many other small and big corporations are investing heavily in this field, hoping for even better computers than the ones we use today.
Although IBM is nearing the 1000 bit milestone for its qubit quantum computer, we will only really know its capabilities when it reaches that point. Quantum computing as a whole is very promising.
Out of all of its potential applications, weather forecast could be the most important. With climate change causing the weather to behave erratically, we desperately need better machines to prevent climate disasters. Perhaps with its strange quantum properties, it can predict changing weather patterns more accurately than the machines we use today.
One thing is certain, though, that quantum computing seems to be the future of computing.