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IBM makes quantum computing available in the cloud

Sharon Gaudin | May 5, 2016
The company's 5-qubit processor is accessible on any desktop or mobile device.

IBM Research is making its quantum processor available to the public via IBM's cloud to any desktop or mobile device.

"This moment represents the birth of quantum cloud computing," Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, said in a statement today. "Quantum computers are very different from today's computers, not only in what they look like and are made of, but more importantly in what they can do. Quantum computing is becoming a reality and it will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today's computers.

The cloud-enabled quantum computing platform, dubbed the IBM Quantum Experience, is designed to let people use individual quantum bits, also known as qubits, to run algorithms and experiments on IBM's quantum processor.

Jay Gambetta, manager of Theory of Quantum Computing and Information at IBM, told Computerworld that the public use of Quantum Experience will be free.

"Since this is open to the public, there is no organization or business that will have priority," said Gambetta. "There are several opportunities for material and drug design, optimization, and other commercially important applications where quantum computing promises to offer significant value beyond what classical computers can offer."

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, Inc., said IBM's 5-qubit processor should be powerful enough to handle a variety of research and other computations.

"I personally believe this is a very big deal," he added. "First and foremost, it should significantly broaden interest in and work around quantum computing. At this point, those efforts are mainly being performed by researchers associated with companies and labs able to afford highly experimental and highly expensive quantum technologies."

King also noted that providing public access should help validate work being done on quantum computing algorithms and applications, which previously could only be run in simulations.

"The project demonstrates that IBM's concepts around quantum processors work, can be reproduced and are stable enough to support cloud-based access and services," said King. "If the project succeeds and leads to a clearer understanding of quantum computing, as well as workable larger systems, it will definitely be remembered as a game changer."

Earl Joseph, an IDC analyst, noted that in addition to fully building a quantum computer, the big challenge is figuring out how to program it. IBM's move to engage the public should help with that.

"This experiment provides the opportunity for a large group of people to start to learn how to program quantum computers, which will help to develop ways to use this new type of technology," said Joseph. "Hopefully, it will help to motivate students to go into quantum computing programming as a field of research.... It's a milestone in allowing a larger number of people around the world to get their hands on this."


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