In what IBM says “is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” the company unveiled the world’s first quantum computer on day one of the ongoing CES 2019.
Named IBM Q System One, the 20-qubit system is a bold attempt by the Armonk, New York-based company to find commercial applications for quantum computing, which until now had been confined to research labs and occasional demos.
“This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science,” said Arvind Krishna, director of IBM Research and senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud.
While IBM claims that its Q System One is the “world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use,” it also acknowledges that a lot of work still remains to be done in order to make it worthy of real-world commercial applications.
“IBM Q systems are designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle,” says the company.
Winfried Hensinger, a quantum technologies professor at the University of Sussex in the U.K. couldn’t have explained the experimental system’s current limitations better when he told The Verge that it was more of a “stepping stone’ than a practical system for quantum computing.
“Don’t think of this as a quantum computer that can solve all of the problems quantum computing is known for,” the professor was quoted by the technology news network as saying.
“Think of it as a prototype machine that allows you to test and further develop some of the programming that might be useful in the future,” Hensinger added.
One of the applications that the company foresees for quantum computing in times to come is financial data modeling and identifying key global risk factors to allow for more prudent investment decisions.
It can also prove its worth in “finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and optimizing fleet operations for deliveries,” says IBM.
The IBM system could also find itself playing a significant role in areas such as artificial intelligence, or materials and drug discovery, to cite a couple more examples.
In fact, quantum computing can effectively tackle many other complex issues that are way beyond the capabilities of today’s classical computers; it’s just a matter of developing the technology to a level where its full potential can truly be tapped.
Meanwhile, the IT behemoth plans to launch a new IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for commercial clients in Poughkeepsie, New York, sometime later this year.
The new center will add to the existing IBM Q Network of commercial quantum computing program with systems at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York.
“This new center will house some of the world’s most advanced cloud-based quantum computing systems, which will be accessible to members of the IBM Q Network, a worldwide community of leading Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions, and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science,” says IBM.
However, the company is yet to take a decision on the number of quantum systems the new center will eventually house, according to the vice president for IBM Q Strategy & Ecosystems, Bob Sutor.
This stunning piece of computing art on display at CES 2019 is a testimony to the skills and perseverance of a world-class team of industrial designers, architects, and manufacturers, who worked alongside IBM Research scientists and systems engineers to make it a reality, albeit a limited one.
The companies involved in this collaborative endeavour include U.K.-based industrial and interior design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, as well as a Milan-based Italian company called Goppion which is known for manufacturing high-end museum display cases, including the ones that house the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, U.K.
The computing unit itself is housed inside a nine-foot-tall and nine-foot-wide airtight box made of half-inch thick borosilicate glass, together making up the IBM Q System One.
The “sophisticated, modular and compact design,” as the company describes it, has been optimized for stability, reliability and continuous commercial use.
IBM says it’s the “first quantum system to consolidate thousands of components into a glass-enclosed, air-tight environment built specifically for business use, a milestone in the evolution of commercial quantum computers.”
In the lab versions of quantum computers, replacing a qubit chip would take up as many as three full days: 36 hours for warming up the room before the swap out and another 36 hours to cool the room back down.
“If you only had one system 4 days is a long time,” said Sutor, adding, “Now with the new design we can shorten it to hours.”
Here’s a short video of the world’s first integrated quantum computing system – the IBM Q System One.