Some problems are too complex to be tackled by even the most advanced high-power computers, so IBM aims to take them on with a new approach: an "industry-first" plan to build universal quantum computing systems for businesses, researchers and others.
Instead of using the standard computing building blocks of bits -- the binary digits "0" and "1" -- quantum computers use qubits that can function as either 0s, 1s or both simultaneously. This enables quantum computers to handle calculations and analyses that are beyond the reach of even the smartest "regular" computers.
In addition to unveiling its "IBM Q" initiative, which will be enabled through its cloud platform, IBM today released an API (application program interface) for developers who want to build quantum computing-based applications. Big Blue also launched an upgraded simulator on its IBM Quantum Experience that can model quantum computing systems with up to 20 qubits.
'Implications Are Huge'
Quantum computing experts say such systems will be able to handle massive memory and processing demands that are out of the reach of standard computers. For example, they could help researchers better understand the many different states that molecules, such as caffeine, can exist in, which could help pave the way for new medicines, chemical compounds and materials.
"In terms of applications, I think the one type of really big challenge that many of us who are working on this really want to be able to solve is to see the simulation of chemistry, the simulation of nature," said Jerry Chow, manager of experimental quantum computing for IBM Research, in an IBM video. "If you're going to try to understand nature, which is naturally quantum mechanical, there's no reason to use bits -- 0s and 1s -- to do it, but to actually use other objects that follow those same natural laws, quantum bits, to try and simulate that and try and understand that. The implications for this are huge."
Beyond medicine and chemistry, quantum computers could also deliver benefits for financial data and risk modeling, cloud-based computing security and logistics. For instance, they could help businesses with large and complex global supply chains optimize their fleet operations for more efficient deliveries during busy holiday seasons.
Applications for Business, Education
IBM first made quantum computing available in May, opening up its quantum processor to the public via the IBM Cloud. Since then, some 40,000 users have used the IBM "Quantum Experience" to run more than 275,000 different experiments.
Big Blue has also partnered with a number of academic institutions, including MIT, which has used the Quantum Experience for online students who want to run experiments or test quantum computing theories.
In addition, the IBM Research Frontiers Institute consortium works to develop and test new computing technologies for business use. Founding members of the consortium include Canon, Hitachi Metals, Honda, JSR, Nagase and Samsung.
"We envision IBM Q systems working in concert with our portfolio of classical high-performance systems to address problems that are currently unsolvable, but hold tremendous untapped value," Tom Rosamilia, IBM Systems senior vice president, said in a statement.
Pictured above: IBM Quantum Computing Scientists Hanhee Paik (left) and Sarah Sheldon (right). Image Credit: Connie Zhou for IBM.