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IBM and Microsoft close the gap to mainstream quantum computing

Recent developments from IBM and Microsoft suggest that cloud-based enterprise computing may become mainstream in just a few years

According to IBM, by 2025, frictionless quantum computing will become a reality.

The company has fleshed out its roadmap, originally unveiled in September 2020, to include the software layers required to make quantum computing more accessible to more software developers.

During 2021, IBM said it plans to extend its Qiskit execution environment to increase the capacity to run more circuits at a much faster rate, and adding the capability to store quantum programs so that other users can run them as a service. This could pave the way to making quantum computing available as a service within enterprises.

By 2023, IBM said it plans to offer entire families of pre-built runtimes, callable from a cloud-based application programming interface (API) using a variety of common development frameworks to apply quantum computing to tackle industry-specific problems.

In a blog post describing the roadmap, IBM wrote: “A big part of our software strategy is to continue to use and create open source tools, eventually converting some into first-class cloud-native components. This will allow us to continue scaling and extending our quantum software so that users can take advantage of our architecture while running quantum programs in a secure and reliable way.

“On the other side, users will be able to install and use some components from our software stack directly in their preferred cloud architectures.”

IBM is not the only company this week to announce functionality to further the development of mainstream quantum computing. In a Microsoft blog, Krysta Svore, general manager at Microsoft Quantum, unveiled a public preview of the company’s cloud-based quantum computing service. “You can access quantum computing capabilities in the cloud from our hardware partners, Honeywell Quantum Solutions and IonQ, through their trapped-ion quantum systems,” she wrote.

Those who participate in the public preview will also be able to use “solvers” from Microsoft and 1QBit, said Svore. These are algorithms that apply quantum principles for increased speed and accuracy, running at scale on existing CPU (traditional processors), GPU (graphics processing unit) and FPGA (field programmable gate array)-based hardware.

Read more about quantum computing

  • Google claims it has developed an algorithm for a quantum computer that would take a traditional “classical” computer 10,000 years to run.
  • Quantum computing takes a radically different approach to programming. IBM’s education head discusses how to get started.

She added: “With cloud-based access through Azure Quantum, you can accelerate research into solving problems in chemistry, medicine, finance and logistics.”

These developments suggest that some organisations may be using cloud-based quantum computing as an integral component of a broad IT architecture within four years. Just as GPUs and FPGAs, particularly when accessed via cloud platforms, have accelerated artificial intelligence training and inference applications, quantum computing promises to solve many of today’s insoluble problems.

The developments from companies like IBM and Microsoft illustrate how the industry will deliver quantum computing to the enterprise software market. But a new short film, Quantum ethics, highlights the risks.

The experts featured in the film warn that society needs to think through the implication of what it means to solve problems that were previously insoluble and what regulatory framework needs to be in place to prevent misuse or exploiting quantum computing for malicious intent.

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