As IBM’s research division pursues a multi-year quest to build a universal quantum computer more powerful than any supercomputer in the world, it’s sharing its latest progress with smaller quantum processors on the cloud for the world to join in.
Tucked off a nondescript hallway in IBM’s sprawling and hard-to-find T.J. Watson Research Center an hour north of New York City you’ll find a room with several hanging white cylinders, each surrounded by racks of servers. They’re about the size of fridges—which is exactly what they are. But these fridges cool their insides down to just 0.015 degrees above 0 kelvin, or about -459 degrees Fahrenheit. “We like to say it’s colder than space,” says Jerry Chow, manager of the experimental quantum computing team at IBM Research. They’re so cold because inside, IBM’s latest breakthroughs in quantum computing are hard at work.
At 50 qubits, a quantum computer will be able to run experiments that no traditional computer will be able to emulate, no matter how big or how fast. IBM Research’s fridges today house quantum processors of just five. That’s not nearly enough to replicate many of the tasks we expect of computers today. But each processor can run a complex algorithm or experiment in just a second or two, and churn out results for eight hours before the system needs a refresher. Most importantly, they consistently work.
As Chow’s colleague Jay Gambetta, manager of theory of quantum computing and information for Big Blue, explains it: “Quantum isn’t weird or hard, it’s just different.”
Now IBM is giving the keys to one of the quantum processors to the public in the hopes of proving just that. At a new site called the IBM Quantum Experience, researchers and quantum fans will now be able to run their own experiments on one of the research lab’s actual quantum processors hooked up to the cloud. IBM is offering tutorials on quantum mechanics and an interface for easily dragging and dropping operations to create an algorithm to run on the quantum processor. Users can also click a button to simulate the same procedure on a traditional computer to compare hypothetical results with the actual. IBM will keep a log of past experiments so researchers can find similar tests run by peers.