Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina State’

IBM Continues Quantum Push

June 8, 2018

IBM continued building out its Q Network ecosystem in May with the announcement of North Carolina State University, which is the first university-based IBM Q Hub in North America. As a hub. NC State will focus on accelerating industry collaborations, learning, skills development, and the implementation of quantum computing.

Scientists inside an open dilution fridge

NC State will work directly with IBM to advance quantum computing and industry collaborations, as part of the IBM Q Network’s growing quantum computing ecosystem. The school is the latest Q Network member. The network consists of individuals and organizations, including scientists, engineers, and business leaders, along with forward thinking companies, academic institutions, and national research labs enabled by IBM Q. Its mission: advancing quantum computing and launching the first commercial applications.

This past Nov. IBM announced a 50 qubit system. Shortly after Google announced Bristlecone, which claims to top that. With Bristlecone Google topped IBM for now with 72 qubits. However, that may not be the most important metric to focus on.

Stability rather than the number of qubits should be the most important metric. The big challenge today revolves around the instability of qubits. To maintain qubit machines stable enough the systems need to keep their processors extremely cold (Kelvin levels of cold) and protect them from external shocks. This is not something you want to build into a laptop or even a desktop. Instability leads to inaccuracy, which defeats the whole purpose.  Even accidental sounds can cause the computer to make mistakes. For minimally acceptable error rates, quantum systems need to have an error rate of less than 0.5 percent for every two qubits. To drop the error rate for any qubit processor, engineers must figure out how software, control electronics, and the processor itself can work alongside one another without causing errors.

50 cubits currently is considered the minimum number for serious business work. IBM’s November announcement, however, was quick to point out that “does not mean quantum computing is ready for common use.” The system IBM developed remains extremely finicky and challenging to use, as are those being built by others. In its 50-qubit system, the quantum state is preserved for 90 microseconds—record length for the industry but still an extremely short period of time.

Nonetheless, 50 qubits have emerged as the minimum number for a (relatively) stable system to perform practical quantum computing. According to IBM, a 50-qubit machine can do things that are extremely difficult to even simulate with the fastest conventional system.

Today, IBM offers the public IBM Q Experience, which provides access to 5- and 16-qubit systems; and the open quantum software development kit, QISKit, maybe the first quantum SDK. To date, more than 80,000 users of the IBM Q Experience, have run more than 4 million experiments and generated more than 65 third-party research articles.

Still, don’t expect to pop a couple of quantum systems into your data center. For the immediate future, the way to access and run qubit systems is through the cloud. IBM has put qubit systems in the cloud, where they are available to participants in its Q Network and Q Experience.

IBM has also put some of its conventional systems, like the Z, in the cloud. This raises some interesting possibilities. If IBM has both quantum and conventional systems in the cloud, can the results of one be accessed or somehow shared with the other. Hmm, DancingDinosaur posed that question to IBM managers earlier this week at a meeting in North Carolina (NC State, are you listening?).

The IBMers acknowledged the possibility although in what form and what timeframe wasn’t even at the point of being discussed. Quantum is a topic DancingDinosaur expects to revisit regularly in the coming months or even years. Stay tuned.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his work at technologywriter.com and here.


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