After decades of heavy slog with no promise of success, quantum computing is suddenly buzzing with almost feverish excitement and activity. Nearly two years ago, IBM made a quantum computer available to the world: the 5-quantum-bit (qubit) resource they now call (a little awkwardly) the IBM Q experience. That seemed more like a toy for researchers than a way of getting any serious number crunching done. But 70,000 users worldwide have registered for it, and the qubit count in this resource has now quadrupled. In the past few months, IBM and Intel have announced that they have made quantum computers with 50 and 49 qubits, respectively, and Google is thought to have one waiting in the wings. "There is a lot of energy in the community, and the recent progress is immense," said physicist Jens Eisert of the Free University of Berlin.
Quantum computing gets a boost as IBM develops new algorithms, but how will it be beneficial to different industries? IBM scientists have developed new algorithms to help improve the knowledge of complex chemistry and quantum computing. Using IBM Q, the tech team successfully applied an efficient algorithm in relation to the number of quantum operations required for stimulation using a six qubits of a seven-qubit quantum processor to address the molecular structure problem for beryllium hydride which is to date the largest molecule simulated on a quantum computer. As a result of the breakthrough, it could result in effective practical applications across various sectors such as medicine to help develop personalised drugs, material engineering and energy to discover better sustainable energy sources. "Exact predictions will result in molecular design that does not need calibration with experiment.
This month IBM and Google both said they aim to commercialize quantum computers within the next few years (Google specified five), selling access to the exotic machines in a new kind of cloud service. The competitors predict a new era in which computers are immensely more powerful, with dividends including more efficient routing for logistics and mapping companies, new forms of machine learning, better product recommendations, and improved diagnostic tests. But before any of that, the first quantum computer to start paying its way with useful work in the real world looks likely to do so by helping chemists trying to do things like improve batteries or electronics. So far, simulating molecules and reactions is the use case for early, small quantum computers sketched out in most detail by researchers developing the new kind of algorithms needed for such machines. Quantum computers, which represent data using quantum-mechanical effects apparent at tiny scales, should be able to perform computations impossible for any conventional computer.
In this superconducting quantum chip, each of the nine cross-shaped qubits is connected to its neighbors and individually controlled. Google engineers have found a way to make the company's D-Wave quantum computer more scalable and capable of solving problems in multiple fields. According to Nature, Google has created a device that blends analog and digital approaches to deliver enough quantum bits, or qubits, to create a scalable, multi-purpose quantum computer, capable of solving chemistry and physics problems by, for example, simulating molecules at the quantum level. The analog approach, or adiabatic quantum computing (AQC), underpins the D-Wave quantum computer Google bought a few years ago. But, as Nature notes, errors can't be corrected as systematically as they can on digital circuits.
Chips (above) hold quantum bits that are at the heart of the search for a universal quantum computer. For 30 years, researchers have pursued the universal quantum computer, a device that could solve any computational problem, with varying degrees of success. Now, a team in California and Spain has made an experimental prototype of such a device that can solve a wide range of problems in fields such as chemistry and physics, and has the potential to be scaled up to larger systems. Both IBM and a Canadian company called D-Wave have created functioning quantum computers using different approaches. But their devices are not easily scalable to the many quantum bits (qubits) needed for solving problems that classical computers cannot.