IBM Helps Researchers Explore the Impossible With New IBM Q System One
Learn about how the first commercially available quantum computer will help propel innovation.
By Jennifer Goforth Gregory05/01/2019
Many computational problems today are still too complex for even the most sophisticated systems to solve. Scientists cannot accurately simulate molecular interactions with even moderate-sized molecules, such as those that make up caffeine, on traditional computational computers. Financial service companies struggle with getting these computers to optimize portfolios that have a large number of estimations for risk analysis. Complex fleet operations cannot be accurately optimized by logistics experts because the equation that’s used doesn’t scale exponentially when they add a new fleet or city.
Earlier this year, IBM unveiled IBM Q System One* (ibm.co/2RhFcYt), an integrated universal approximate quantum computing system that gives businesses and scientists the tools to potentially solve these and many other previously impossible equations. The Q System One is currently used for research and case study purposes by organizations in the IBM Q Network, IBM’s commercial quantum computing initiative, to explore the future practical uses for quantum technology.
“We are in a unique position to leverage our classical systems’ skills and knowledge to build a highly resilient and robust quantum computing system for our enterprise clients,” says Scott Crowder, chief technology officer, IBM Systems, and vice president of quantum computing. “This has allowed us to be the first in the industry to bring true universal quantum computing out of research, which has excited and energized quantum application researchers in academia and industry.”
A New Way of Computing
Quantum computing changes the way people interact with systems, by using a completely different way of calculating—based on quantum mechanics, rather than expanding on Moore’s Law. Every time a single qubit is added, the system doubles the potential power of the computer, meaning a quantum computer with 150 qubits has more possible basis states than the number of atoms on Earth.
While developing the Q System One, Crowder says the IBM team learned that by using an automated calibration technique, they could make the system consistently available over the cloud, outside the lab where the system is physically located. “We used our strengths in both research and systems to develop an accessible system that’s up and running for long periods of time,” says Crowder. “Instead of our system being an experimental system only usable by researchers in the lab, the IBM Q* systems are accessible from anywhere remotely and securely over the cloud. This ability fundamentally differentiates IBM from others in the industry.”
One of the challenges with quantum computers is their inherently short coherence times—the industry-leading systems have only about 100 µs, on average, to run an algorithm before the qubits collapse. The Q System One’s advanced electronics around the fourth generation of IBM’s 20-qubit chip better controls the environment and increases qubit quality. The new chip in the Q Systems One doubles the accuracy and cuts the variability in half, which has a significant impact for research and, eventually, commercial uses.
The footprint of the Q System One is 3x smaller than a lab installation. This reduced size means that in the future, the system will be able to be installed in a variety of locations—not restricted to a dedicated research lab. This smaller size comes while maintaining a specifically controlled environment that meets the necessary temperature and stability requirements, and protecting the quantum processor from all types of interference such as radio waves, microwave waves, vibrations and sounds. Because of these requirements, for the foreseeable future, the system will be accessed through the cloud.
Revolutionizing Business and Medicine
As quantum computers become more stable, their use has the potential to impact many industries. The financial services industry is often noted for firms using systems to better optimize capital, requiring less capital to be kept on hand—and quantum computers could allow them to do that even more effectively than they do today.
The IBM Q System One is expected to make significant impacts on chemistry as well, affecting a range of aspects from materials development to pharmaceuticals. Because quantum computing taps into the quantum mechanics of atomic structures, researchers could accurately simulate and understand how molecular interactions happen. This means that researchers can use this knowledge to develop algorithms for the design of new materials or enhance current materials. Additionally, scientists expect quantum computing to help develop new drugs more quickly and less expensively.
Crowder compares the current state of quantum computing to the early mainframes of the 1950s, where everyone is still learning the uses and impact of the system.
“We are still researching the hardware level, the types of algorithms and which software stack to use for different programs,” says Crowder. “However, we see potential uses running the gamut from better materials to more profitable businesses. Quantum computing truly is a disruptive technology. We’re at the early stages of making this new form of computation a reality.”
Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a freelance writer. More →