LAS VEGAS — Quantum computing still seems like it comes from the pages of a science fiction novel, but it is slowly getting closer to being a commercial reality. At CES 2019, IBM Research has made what it hopes is a big step in that direction with what it calls the “first fully-integrated commercial quantum computer,” the Q System One. Existing quantum computers are confined to R&D labs, while the Q System One includes both the electronics and cooling components needed in a single package that was developed in concert with leading industrial designers. An extraordinary amount of cooling is needed to reduce qubit errors and reduce the need for additional qubits to be used for error correction.
IBM clearly spared no expense on the industrial design of the Q System One
IBM Makes It Easy to Experiment With Quantum Computing
Fortunately, you don’t actually need a Q System One in your garage (instead of your car) to learn about and experiment with Quantum Computing. IBM has a fairly extensive set of open-source tools called Qiskit that includes programming libraries for Python, simulators, and will also let you run your code on one of IBM’s cloud-based Quantum computers (although that requires an account and costs money). There are some pretty good tutorial videos on the basics of programming, but you’ll probably want to read up a bit on qubits and quantum computing in general before plunging in. You can also experience the limits of current quantum computers this way. Some algorithms that run perfectly on the simulator aren’t quite as accurate on the real hardware, as noise affects the state of some of the qubits.
IBM will be adding the Q System One to its arsenal of cloud-accessible quantum computers, first at its existing quantum data center, and at a new one planned for Poughkeepsie, New York. So for those who aren’t Fortune 500 companies with a budget to purchase their own (IBM hasn’t announced a price for the unit, but if you have to ask…), they’ll be able to make use of one. The current version reportedly “only” supports 20 Qubits, so the breakthrough isn’t in processing power compared with other research models, but instead in reliability and industrial design suitable for use in commercial environments.
Quantum Computing: Be Careful What You Wish for
While quantum computing promises to accelerate technological advances in many fields of science, it also poses some challenging problems. For example, sufficiently advanced quantum computers will start to be able to break our currently “unbreakable” key-based encryption systems, because they are well suited for factoring large numbers. There isn’t broad agreement over when that will happen, but it could be just a few years from now. That might sound like a lot of time, but imagine how hard it will be and how long it will take to deploy upgraded encryption technology to every exposed system worldwide.
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