There's Now a Real Quantum Computer That Anyone Can Use Remotely

IBM’s quantum computer device (Images: IBM)
IBM’s quantum computer device (Images: IBM)

For decades, quantum computing has been the preserve of research labs. But now IBM has made its working prototype quantum computer accessible via the internet—and literally anyone can use it.

The company has made a five-qubit quantum computer—which sits in a New York lab—remotely accessible using a piece of special software. It’s not for the faint-hearted: The user-friendly interface, shown below, still requires you to understand how quantum devices work, which is well beyond the comprehension of many of us.

Quantum computer simulators have been made available online before, but to my knowledge this is the first time that hardware has been opened up for widespread public use. Cynics may—quite rightly—suggest that the process allows IBM chance for a little self-promotion.

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But the announcement’s more important than that. Opening access to a real quantum device for students, researchers and plain-old nerds that wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to play with the hardware means more person hours can be spent tinkering with the technology. Some people will undoubtedly spot an interesting quirk in beahvior or error with the device, and that way progress lies.

Illustration for article titled Theres Now a Real Quantum Computer That Anyone Can Use Remotely

Progress is certainly what’s needed. Quantum computers can, theoretically, be so much faster because they take advantage of a quirk in quantum mechanics. While classical computers use bits that exist as a 0 or 1, quantum computers use “qubits” that can exist as 0, 1 or a superposition of the two states. That allows a single bit to potentially hold two values at once, or for two bits to hold four values at once. Keep scaling those numbers, and you quickly end up with a device that can process data exponentially faster than today’s computers.

But so far it’s proven hard to build quantum devices with more than a handful of qubits. There is, of course, the D-Wave quantum computer, which claims to handle hundreds of qubits—but the jury is still very much out on whether or not the computer actually takes advantage of true quantum effects.

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IBM will be hoping that the insights it can glean from opening up its hardware will accelerate the process. Hopefully it does.

[IBM via Wired]

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Contributing Editor at Gizmodo. An ex-engineer writing about science and technology.

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DISCUSSION

thelittlesttroll
TheLittlestTroll

So just took a Wikipedia crash course on this quantum computing stuff. What I truly find interesting is that one of the biggest real world applications for stuff like this is cracking encryption. I am finding a lack of doom and gloom that usually goes with news of someone being able to break into your data and look at all your granny porn.

From my time in parallel computing, I have learned that specialized computers such as these only excel over basic home computers in very specific areas. Only certain types of mathematical problems could be solved faster on a parallel computer. Others, a basic PC could solve it in the same amount of time. The result was that parallel computing was only used in specific areas. It seems quantum computing follows the same idea. Some algorithms it can tear through, others, meh. Turns out though in applying this to real world applications, some of those algorithms it can tear through are used in encryption cracking.