International Business Machines is increasing the pressure on Google, of Alphabet, in the battle to commercialize the technology of quantum computing.
Quantum computers have the promise of being able to solve difficult problems in fields such as chemistry and materials science that are currently beyond the reach of the most powerful conventional supercomputers. It is also possible that some of the current encryption techniques will become obsolete some day.
IBM said on Friday it created a 50-qubit quantum computer prototype. It is believed that a machine of this size is near the threshold where it could perform tasks beyond the reach of conventional supercomputers, an important milestone in computing that researchers in the field call “quantum supremacy.”
In a statement, IBM said it “aims to demonstrate capabilities beyond the current classical systems” with quantum systems of this size.
Friday’s announcement places IBM in a direct race with Google, which has said it plans to show a machine of the similar size capable of reaching this milestone by the end of the year.
Current quantum computers are still too small and prone to errors to overcome conventional supercomputers in most tasks, but the technology is advancing rapidly. Several companies, including IBM, Google Microsoft Corp., the Canadian D-Wave Systems Inc. and startup Rigetti Computing, based in California, are striving to create machines that companies can use.
Jonathan Breeze, a researcher who works on advanced materials at Imperial College London and is not affiliated with any of the companies that develop quantum computing, said the practical applications of quantum computers will depend largely on reducing the error rate. in your calculations.
“There’s a lot of debate about how mistakes increase with the number of cubits,” Breeze said. If the errors grow exponentially as more cubits are added, as some suspect, then the technology may be well below expectations. “The exciting thing is that the technology is developing at such a rapid pace that we should be able to answer that question soon,” Breeze said.
While IBM and its rivals are eager to lead advances in quantum computing, they are also increasingly eager to win new customers. Google has offered science laboratories and artificial intelligence researchers early access to its quantum machines. IBM said Friday that by the end of 2017 it will make available a 20-cubic-inch quantum computer for customers who pay through its cloud computing platform. The company had previously offered customers access to a 17 cubic meter machine. It also gave researchers access to run experiments on a quantum computer of five and 16 cubits over the Internet for free.