IBM has unveiled its first commercial quantum computer at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Named the IBM Q System One (the Q), the 20-quantum bits, or qubits device is the first quantum system built specifically for business use. IBM touts the Q as the “world’s first fully integrated universal quantum computing system.”
This is “a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” Arvind Krishna, IBM’s senior VP of hybrid cloud and director of research, said in a statement. The “new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”
IBM says it has no plans to sell the system, but will instead rent access to the hardware via the IBM Cloud, allowing customers to remotely perform quantum calculations. The tech giant also notes that its system – which includes reinforced chambers to hold the qubits, tanks of liquid helium to keep the quantum bits at just above absolute zero, around -460 Fahrenheit, and racks of high precision electronics all tied together by hundreds of yards of cabling to control qubit action – aims to address one of the most challenging aspects of quantum computing, “coherence time”. Coherence time refers to the lengthening of quantum state qubits need to perform an operation or experiment.
IBM said the system’s qubits managed a coherence time of 75 microseconds. The company claimed that the result “was the best for any general-purpose quantum machine.”
Obviously, the Q isn’t the most powerful quantum computer out there. In fact, IBM itself already built a more powerful quantum system prototype capable of handling 50-qubits machine back in 2017.
But that’s not the point. IBM wants the Q to be perceived as a symbolic first step in the commercial quantum-computing race. This is a field that harnesses the power of quantum mechanics and one that’s expected to leave today’s machines in the dust, bringing in the process unprecedented advances in areas such as new materials, medicine, artificial intelligence, financial markets and online security.
It’s worth noting that quantum computers are still in their very early stages and IBM isn’t the only company that’s been working on the technology. Top notch universities such as Oxford, Harvard or MIT, and big tech names like Microsoft, Google and Intel are also pushing this technology forward whether it is by making quantum computers more stable, creating hybrid quantum systems or making quantum computer chips. That said, Dario Gil, chief operating officer at IBM Research said that packaging the entire system into the first-ever integrated, general-purpose quantum computer “is an iconic moment”.
In related news, The Big Blue also announced the IBM Q Network -a partnership with energy giant ExxonMobil and research labs like CERN, the organization that built the Large Hadron Collider, Argonne, Fermilab and Lawrence Berkeley – plans to open its first IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for commercial clients in Poughkeepsie, New York later this year.