That might not sound like much, but in the quantum computing arms race, several groups are edging past one another as they aim to eventually make a universal quantum computer. A group of researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute has created a quantum simulator using 53 quantum bits, or qubits. Earlier this month, IBM announced a 50-qubit prototype, though its capabilities are unclear. With this 53-qubit device, the researchers have done scientific simulations that don't seem to be possible
A team in the US has created a simulator with 51 quantum bits – the largest of its kind so far. Mikhail Lukin at Harvard University announced the achievement on 14 July at the International Conference on Quantum Technologies in Moscow. Quantum simulators are used to model the minute behaviour of molecules, and could help study how drugs act within the human body. They aren't full-blown quantum computers, though, says Simon Devitt at Macquarie University in Sydney. Lukin's system was specifically built to solve one equation that models the interactions between certain atoms.
Developers hoping to get on the quantum computer train early can now get started with Microsoft's Quantum Development Kit, a free preview version of which was released today. The kit, which was first announced at Microsoft's Ignite conference in September, includes the Q# programming language, a quantum computing simulator that can simulate 30 logical qubits of power and a companion collection of documentation, libraries and sample programs that will help developers get a better foothold on the complex science behind quantum computing.
Building a quantum computer has gone from a far-off dream of a few university scientists to an immediate goal for some of the world's biggest companies. Tech giants Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Google are all plowing tens of millions of dollars into quantum computing, which aims to harness quantum mechanics to vastly accelerate computation. Yet the contenders are betting on different technological horses: No one yet knows what type of quantum logic bit, or qubit, will power a practical quantum computer. Google, often considered the field's leader, has signaled its choice: tiny, superconducting circuits. Its group has built a nine-qubit machine and hopes to scale up to 49 within a year--an important threshold. At about 50 qubits, many say a quantum computer could achieve "quantum supremacy" and do something beyond the ken of a classical computer, such as simulating molecular structures in chemistry and materials science, or solving problems in cryptography. Small startup company ionQ, a decided underdog, is sticking with its preferred technology: trapped ions.