IBM reveals quantum breakthrough in race to revolutionise computing

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  • Company’s scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits 
  • First time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale 
  • Can perform calculations at far higher speeds than current computers 
  • Firm will also allow clients to use its quantunm machines online for first time 

Mark Prigg For Dailymail.com

IBM has announced a milestone in its race against Google and other big tech firms to build a powerful quantum computer.

Dario Gil, who leads IBM’s quantum computing and artificial intelligence research division, said Friday that the company’s scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits.

Gil says it’s the first time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale.

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IBM scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits, the first time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale. Pictured, part of the machine.

IBM scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits, the first time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale. Pictured, part of the machine.

IBM scientists have successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits, the first time any company has built a quantum computer at this scale. Pictured, part of the machine.

QUANTUM CHIPS 

The heart of modern computing is binary code, which has served computers for decades.

Machines use bits which can be either a 1 or a 0 to process data.

Quantum computers are based on quantum bits or ‘qubits’, which can be 1, 0 or even both at the same time.

They rely on the strange quantum property of superposition, in which subatomic particles can exist in a haze of no fixed state. 

One of the major stumbling blocks for the development of quantum computers has been demonstrating they can beat classical computers.

Google says it will have a working 49-qubit chip by the end of the year that will prove this principle.

If this can be achieved, it would be a major coup for Google and could lead to supercomputers of enormous processing power.

Quantum computing, a technology that’s still in its early phases, uses the quirks of quantum physics to perform calculations at far higher speeds than current computers. 

‘Quantum computing promises to be able to solve certain problems – such as chemical simulations and types of optimization – that will forever be beyond the practical reach of classical machines,’ IBM said.

In a recent Nature paper, the IBM Q team pioneered a new way to look at chemistry problems using quantum hardware that could one day transform the way new drugs and materials are discovered, for instance.

IBM also announced it will allow customer to access a slightly slower version of the system online for the first time.

‘We are, and always have been, focused on building technology with the potential to create value for our clients and the world,’ said Dario Gil, vice president of AI and IBM Q, IBM Research. 

‘The ability to reliably operate several working quantum systems and putting them online was not possible just a few years ago. 

‘Now, we can scale IBM processors up to 50 qubits due to tremendous feats of science and engineering. 

‘These latest advances show that we are quickly making quantum systems and tools available that could offer an advantage for tackling problems outside the realm of classical machines.’

An IBM engineer at the firm's Yorktown Heights, NY Quantum Computing lab tests the Q machine. Customers can use a tablet to interact with the IBM Quantum Experience, the world¿s first quantum computing platform delivered via the IBM Cloud at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY.

An IBM engineer at the firm's Yorktown Heights, NY Quantum Computing lab tests the Q machine. Customers can use a tablet to interact with the IBM Quantum Experience, the world¿s first quantum computing platform delivered via the IBM Cloud at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY.

An IBM engineer at the firm’s Yorktown Heights, NY Quantum Computing lab tests the Q machine. Customers can use a tablet to interact with the IBM Quantum Experience, the world’s first quantum computing platform delivered via the IBM Cloud at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY.

Seth Lloyd, an MIT mechanical engineering professor not involved in IBM’s research, says it’s likely that IBM still has glitches to work out but the 50-qubit announcement is a sign of significant progress.

The first IBM systems available online to clients will have a 20 qubit processor, 

Over 60,000 users have run over 1.7M quantum experiments and generated over 35 third-party research publications using IBM’s system, the firm said. 

Indside the machine: Superconducting Coaxial Lines inside the Q machine unveiled by IBM

Indside the machine: Superconducting Coaxial Lines inside the Q machine unveiled by IBM

Indside the machine: Superconducting Coaxial Lines inside the Q machine unveiled by IBM

Inside an IBM Dilution Refrigerator: The gold colored coaxial cables are used to send inputs and outputs from inside the fridge to the external parts of the machine

Inside an IBM Dilution Refrigerator: The gold colored coaxial cables are used to send inputs and outputs from inside the fridge to the external parts of the machine

Inside an IBM Dilution Refrigerator: The gold colored coaxial cables are used to send inputs and outputs from inside the fridge to the external parts of the machine

Users have registered from over 1500 universities, 300 high schools, and 300 private institutions worldwide, many of whom are accessing the IBM Q experience as part of their formal education.  

‘I use the IBM Q experience and QISKit as an integral part of my classroom teaching on quantum computing, and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is. 

‘In prior years, the course was interesting theoretically, but felt like it described some far off future,’ said Andrew Houck, professor of electrical engineering, Princeton University. 

Inside a quantum computer: Cooper heatsinks can be seen surrounding the processors inside the Q machine

Inside a quantum computer: Cooper heatsinks can be seen surrounding the processors inside the Q machine

Inside a quantum computer: Cooper heatsinks can be seen surrounding the processors inside the Q machine

IBM Research Staff Member Katie Pooley at the Thomas J Watson Research Center,  examining a cryostat with the new 'chandelier' prototype of a commercial quantum processor inside

IBM Research Staff Member Katie Pooley at the Thomas J Watson Research Center,  examining a cryostat with the new 'chandelier' prototype of a commercial quantum processor inside

IBM Research Staff Member Katie Pooley at the Thomas J Watson Research Center, examining a cryostat with the new ‘chandelier’ prototype of a commercial quantum processor inside

‘Thanks to this incredible resource that IBM offers, I have students run actual quantum algorithms on a real quantum computer as part of their assignments!’ 

‘Being able to work on IBM’s quantum hardware and have access through an open source platform like QISKit has been crucial in helping us to understand what algorithms–and real-world use cases–might be viable to run on near-term processors,’ said Matt Johnson, CEO, QC Ware. 

‘Simulators don’t currently capture the nuances of the actual quantum hardware platforms, and nothing is more convincing for a proof-of-concept than results obtained from an actual quantum processor.’ 

RESEARCHERS REVEAL BLUEPRINT FOR A QUANTUM COMPUTER 

Researchers have unveiled what they say is the first practical blueprint for the ‘holy grail’ of computing – a quantum computer.

Scientists from the University of Sussex led a team of experts from around the world, including Google, revealing their findings in February.

They say their work has the potential to revolutionise industry, science and commerce on a similar scale as the invention of ordinary computers.

If it works, it will be a real-life version of Deep Thought, the supercomputer programmed to solve the ‘ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything’ in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.   

They have released the plans in the hope other teams will build and test the machines.

The quantum computer has to the potential to be more powerful in solving certain problems than any computer ever constructed before.

As a next step, the team will construct a prototype quantum computer, based on this design, at the University, and say it could be operational within two years.

Once built, researchers say the computer’s capabilities mean it ‘would have the potential to answer many questions in science; create new, lifesaving medicines; solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems; unravel the yet unknown mysteries of the furthest reaches of deepest space; and solve some problems that an ordinary computer would take billions of years to compute.’