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IBM's online quantum machine gets faster

IBM's processor app in useImage copyright
IBM

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The processor can be accessed via a web interface

IBM has made its quantum computing system commercially available to businesses and beefed up an existing system used by the research community.

The firm is hoping to boost the numbers of people able to use such computers.

The machine, based in New York, has been available via the internet since May last year.

Future applications include the discovery of new materials and medicines as well as making artificial intelligence much more powerful.

Tricky problem

Since the system went online last year, more than 40,000 users have run over 275,000 experiments on it.

While the system it has made publicly available is currently only as powerful as a standard laptop, it is an important first step, said IBM scientist Dr Jerry Chow.

“It is about growing an eco-system of users, developing a community that can grow and define the software that will run it,” he explained.

He added that the system now includes an interface which allows programmers to launch instructions for the machine using traditional programming languages.

Traditional computers process all their information using bits – information stored in tiny transistors that can either be on or off – interpreted as values of one and zero.

Quantum computing instead takes advantage of a mechanism called super-positioning that allows quantum bits – or “qubits” – to have values of one, zero, or both at the same time.

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Eyewire

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Quantum computers use components very different to those in desktop machines

But the real power of quantum computing lies in a concept known as entanglement – whereby bits can interfere and interact with each other, creating many states.

Qubits are, by their nature, massively unstable and maintaining even one is tricky.

Most agree that when quantum computing hits 50 qubits – more powerful than the most powerful supercomputers currently available – that will be something of a magic number.

IBM’s quantum computer will now offer simulation of 20 qubits, up from its original five.

“Classical computers are extraordinarily powerful and will continue to advance and underpin everything we do in business and society.

“But there are many problems that will never be penetrated by a classical computer. To create knowledge from much greater depths of complexity, we need a quantum computer,” said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems.


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