The quantum computing race has a new competitor. Amazon has announced it will partner with three firms to offer online access to prototype quantum processors. Through a new service called Amazon Braket, customers will be able to test algorithms and calculations on quantum processors from D-Wave Systems, IonQ and Rigetti Computing. Each of these three firms takes a different approach to making such processors, which rely on subatomic quantum effects. IonQ's version uses trapped ions manipulated by lasers as quantum bits – or qubits, which are the equivalent to bits in classical computers.
This could be the dawn of a new era in computing. Google has claimed that its quantum computer performed a calculation that would be practically impossible for even the best supercomputer – in other words, it has attained quantum supremacy. If true, it is big news. Quantum computers have the potential to change the way we design new materials, work out logistics, build artificial intelligence and break encryption. That is why firms like Google, Intel and IBM – along with plenty of start-ups – have been racing to reach this crucial milestone.
A quantum computer for the people isn't just a theoretical dream; IBM is trying to make it a reality. IBM has built a quantum processor with five qubits, or quantum bits. Even better, IBM isn't hiding the quantum processor in its labs -- it will be accessible through the cloud for the public to run experiments and test applications. The goal is to unwrap decades-old mysteries around quantum computers and let people play with the hardware, said Jay Gambetta, manager of quantum computing theory and information at IBM. IBM's qubit processor is significant because it'll be the first quantum hardware accessible to the public, even if only through the cloud.
In just a few years, the field of quantum computing has moved swiftly from an academic backwater to a subject of vast public and private interest. The ultimate goal of a'universal' quantum computer -- capable of performing any calculation while correcting for noise, faults and disruptions -- remains decades away. But billions of dollars are being ploughed into commercializing the first fruits1. The US technology company IBM and Canadian firm D-Wave Systems are already selling access to quantum-enhanced calculators. Google, Microsoft and Intel plan to do so in three to five years.
Microsoft is taking quantum computing to the cloud, making it available to anyone, democratizing its access in the same way it is doing with artificial intelligence and it did previously with personal computing ("a computer on every desk and in every home".) Microsoft announced its new quantum computing services this November 2019 at its Ignite conference in Orlando, saying it would launch in coming months. The company's partners will run their quantum computers in their own facilities, but link them into Microsoft's cloud over the internet. Microsoft's program differs from competitors in that it offers access to several different quantum computing technologies, in what could be a preview of the future of the quantum computing market. Microsoft's model is, in fact, more like the existing computing industry, where cloud providers allow customers to choose processors from companies such as Intel and AMD.