Quantum computing took a huge leap out of the theoretical and into the practical world as IBM took the wraps off of the world’s first commercial quantum computer yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
CES an interesting venue to showcase a product squarely targeted at the commercial and scientific world, but the sexiness of the CES limelight likely drew Big Blue due to the momentous nature of the announcement of what it’s calling IBM Q System One.
Quantum computers like IBM Q System One are designed to harness the power of quantum mechanics, namely a phenomenon that occurs in quantum particles called superposition. Whereas ions were once thought to be only positive or negative, physicists found that quantum particles can actually exist in a variety of states simultaneously. Classical computers store information within bits in binary, so that they’re either in an ‘on’ or ‘off’ position. But quantum computers store information in ‘qubits’ that can register a number of different states at the same time.
“You can have heads, you can have tails, but you can also have any weighted superposition. You can have 70-30 heads-tails,” Christopher Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist, explained to Scientific Americanin a useful rundown for non-techies on how quantum computing works.
For enterprises, the implications of leveraging superposition is that it adds orders of magnitude to a computer’s number-crunching capabilities. It will eventually give quantum computers the capability to make calculations on a scale and at a speed that leaves classical supercomputers in the dust. And that is huge in a world increasingly run on big data and complex AI algorithms.
IBM names complex tasks like advanced financial modeling, investment risk calculations, global logistics route planning as just some of the real-world use cases for quantum computing in the commercial world.
According to the firm, IBM Q System puts the following custom components together as the first integrated universal quantum computing system:
- Quantum hardware designed to be stable and auto-calibrated to give repeatable and predictable high-quality qubits;
- Cryogenic engineering that delivers a continuous cold and isolated quantum environment;
- High precision electronics in compact form factors to tightly control large numbers of qubits;
- Quantum firmware to manage the system health and enable system upgrades without downtime for users; and
- Classical computation to provide secure cloud access and hybrid execution of quantum algorithms.
“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”
As a part of the announcement, IBM says it will also open its first IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for commercial clients sometime this year.