Quantum computers provide a radically different computational path than today's PCs. At the center are qubits, which allows the systems to perform significantly more complex calculations than is possible with today's fastest supercomputer.
Conventional bits in today's computers are stored in the form of a one or zero. Harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics, qubits can achieve various states, like holding a one and a zero simultaneously, with states multiplying. This technique is called superposition and allows quantum computers to vastly increase their processing power compared to conventional computers.
But quantum computers can be notoriously unstable, which is why they have been so elusive. Qubits can be fragile, and their behavior or state could be hard to predict once they start interacting, or "entangling," in a calculation. The state of qubits could be easily upset by heat or electromagnetic radiation, which can wreck computational cycles. That could make a quantum computer unreliable for tasks like genome sequencing, which need reliable performance over a sustained period of time.
IBM has been working to address many quantum computing challenges. Research is underway to resolve simultaneous data errors in superpositioned qubit arrays, also called phase-flip errors. IBM is also researching new materials for use in quantum computers.
Another goal with the Quantum Experience is to give users a crash course in programming for quantum computers, Gambetta said. Quantum computers provide an alternative computational path, and programs will need to be written differently for execution on IBM's quantum processor.
Not all programs will execute properly. Users could see errors if qubits go out of control, but that's an important part of learning how to use quantum computers, Gambetta said.
A 5-qubit processor is good for simple scientific programs, but don't expect to run regular applications like Microsoft Word.
There are sample algorithms available for review in the Quantum Experience. One relates to Grover's algorithm, which can be used to search unstructured databases and find answers faster than conventional computers. The initial quantum processor could also be used for material sciences and quantum dynamics applications, and the list will grow in the future.
It'll be possible to run more complex programs as the processor arrangements are beefed up to support more qubits, Gambetta said.
Researchers and scientists will be able to discuss and share projects through the Quantum Experience. IBM has also formed the IBM Research Frontiers Institute to partner with researchers and organizations to advance quantum computing.
IBM's trying to usher in a new community of quantum computer users with these efforts, Gambetta said.
"I don't know where quantum computing will end up. We're defining a path," Gambetta said.
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