IBM Quantum Computing project: reaching a super position on superposition

The race to build the first quantum computers is on.

Microsoft’s efforts in this space are supported by a dedicated subsection of the Microsoft Research division — and IBM’s work in this space is no less far-reaching.

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A universal quantum computer uses quantum mechanics to process massive amounts of data and perform computations in powerful new ways not possible with today’s conventional computers.

But before we can start to discuss the implications for software application developers ‘programming to’ (or from) the power of quantum machines, we need to build them and stabilise them first.

Quantum information is extremely fragile

The workhorse of the quantum computer is the quantum bit. Many scientists are tackling the challenge of building qubits, but quantum information is extremely fragile and requires special techniques to preserve the quantum state.

In terms of news, the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) programme has notified IBM that it will award its scientists a multi-year research grant to advance the building blocks for a universal quantum computer.

Heat kills quantum

The major hurdles here include creating qubits of high quality and packaging them together in a scalable form so they can perform complex calculations in a controllable way – limiting the errors that can result from heat and electromagnetic radiation.

According to IBM, this type of leap forward in computing could one day shorten the time to discovery for life-saving cancer drugs to a fraction of what it is today; unlock new facets of artificial intelligence by vastly accelerating machine learning; or safeguard cloud computing systems to be impregnable from cyber-attack.

Earlier this year, IBM scientists demonstrated breakthroughs to detect quantum errors by combining superconducting qubits in lattices on computer chips – and whose quantum circuit design is the only physical architecture that can scale to larger dimensions.

Superconducting qubits

Under the LogiQ programme, IBM’s research team will continue to pursue the leading approach for building a universal quantum computer by using superconducting qubits.

By encoding the superconducting qubits into a logical qubit, one should then be able to perform true quantum computation. These logical qubit designs will be foundational to future, more complex quantum computing systems.

“We are at a turning point where quantum computing is moving beyond theory and experimentation to include engineering and applications,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director, IBM Research.

LogiQ envisions that program success will require a multi-disciplinary approach to come up with new technical solutions that will better deal with the fragility of quantum information due to system imperfections, errors and environmental influences.

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