IBM Introduces the World to Quantum Cloud Computing
On May 4, 2016, IBM made a major announcement that will revolutionize the computer industry: IBM is offering quantum computing services to the public through the cloud. The new IBM Quantum Experience platform will give users access to the company’s quantum processor, which will be able to run algorithms, conduct experiments, work with individual quantum bits and explore the potential of quantum computing through tutorials and simulations. By providing public access to its quantum processor, IBM hopes to empower researchers to accelerate innovations in quantum computing and open up new frontiers for quantum technology applications.
The Basics of Quantum Computing
IBM’s quantum processor uses five superconducting quantum bits, or qubits, that represent the closest researchers have come to developing a universal quantum computer. Traditional computers process information by using bits, which only have one of two possible values, one or zero. In comparison, quantum qubits borrow the quantum mechanics principle of superpositioning to expand the possible values of a bit so it can have a value of one, zero or both.
This exponentially expands the potential processing speed of quantum computers. On a traditional computer, 300 bits could represent 600 possible values, but 300 qubits could represent a potential value range of 2 to the 300th power, which is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe, IBM vice president of science and solutions Dario Gil explained to Forbes.
A quantum computer with just 50 qubits could process information faster than today’s fastest supercomputers. This type of universal quantum computer remains in the future, but IBM’s five-qubit processor represents the most advanced step in this direction.
Applications of Quantum Cloud Computing
For researchers, the vastly expanded power of quantum computing offers exciting applications. For example, NASA astronomers hope to use quantum computing to more rapidly analyze telescope data to identify Earth-like planets. Harvard chemist Alan Aspuru-Guzik says one of the first practical applications of quantum computing will be simulating chemical reactions that are too complex for traditional computers to handle. Other researchers see quantum computing unlocking the behavior of the human genome, and Google plans to deploy quantum computing to identify landmarks and cars for driverless vehicles.
All of these uses show that IBM’s announcement represents an exciting breakthrough for a vast range of fields. There are a lot of potential applications and many industries stand to benefit from quantum computing.