IBM Evolves a New Com­put­ing Type to Beat Google

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IBM is about to present to pub­lic a quan­tum com­puter. The cloud ser­vice is aimed mostly to­ward sci­en­tists and stu­dents.

A quan­tum com­puter is dif­fer­ent from today's digital com­puter. A digital com­puter thinks in two states: zero and one (or off and on). A quan­tum com­puter uses "com­bi­na­tions of ze­roes and ones" to cre­ates mul­ti­ple states. It can be a zero, a one, both at the same time, some­thing in be­tween them, or it can be a mys­te­ri­ous zero/one state that you can't re­ally de­ter­mine, Chow ex­plains.

These states are called "en­tan­gle­ment" and there are some well known al­go­rithms (math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­las) that use them.

Quan­tum com­put­ers can solve bil­lions of task si­mul­ta­ne­ously, un­like a digital com­puter. They are also ori­ented ti per­form tasks like ma­chines.. These com­put­ers are ex­pected to help find new medicines, new forms of com­puter se­cu­rity and be­come smart com­put­ers that can think and rea­son. Like­wise, pro­gram­ming a quan­tum com­puter is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. The IBM team has cre­ated a tu­to­rial to help peo­ple learn how to do it.

Quan­tum com­put­ers are also built dif­fer­ently. They use a sil­i­con base, like reg­u­lar com­put­ers, but rely on su­per­con­duct­ing met­als like nio­bium and alu­minum that must be kept very cold. The low temperature brings out their spe­cial quan­tum me­chan­i­cal prop­er­ties. This is the mi­crowave hard­ware that gen­er­ates pulses sent to the quan­tum pro­ces­sor.

The com­puter be­hind this cloud ser­vice is a five "quan­tum bits" (qubits) com­puter, which is pow­er­ful (other quan­tum com­put­ers have been 2 qubits), but not so much smarter than a reg­u­lar su­per­com­puter.

How­ever, the in­dus­try is work­ing its way up to a 50 qubits com­puter which would be so vastly more pow­er­ful than any of today's su­per­com­put­ers. At this stage, it’s not known what kinds of prob­lems a com­puter that fast and smart could solve.

The IBM and Google are com­pet­ing to ex­plore in this area. IBM's work is based on re­search done at Yale through Pro­fes­sor Robert Schoelkopf who has led a PhD and Post-Grad­u­ate stu­dents to de­velop it. The other prom­i­nent US univer­sity work­ing on this is UC Santa Bar­bara un­der Pro­fes­sor John Mar­ti­nis Group, which was backed and ab­sorbed by Google in 2014.

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