IBM Unveils Its Most Powerful Quantum Processor Yet for Business and Science

| by Sergio De Simone Follow 17 Followers on May 19, 2017. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

IBM 16 Qubit Processor
IBM 16 Qubit Processor, photo by IBM Research

IBM has announced a new feat in its race towards building ever more powerful quantum processors, with new 16 and 17 qubit processors that are its most powerful yet.

The two new processors from IBM aim to address the needs of the scientific community with a 16 qubit processor, shown above, that will supersede the previously available 5 qubit processor as well as provide the foundation for a commercial solution based on a new 17 qubit processor. In particular, IBM researchers explain, it is the 17 qubit processor that brings significant material, device, and architecture improvements that makes it IBMs most powerful quantum processor to date, being roughly twice as powerful as what IBM offered before.

According to Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research and Hybrid Cloud, this is only an incremental step that "will allow IBM to scale future processors to include 50 or more qubits, and demonstrate computational capabilities beyond today’s classical computing systems."

While it is certainly true that the newly announced processors sport many more qubits than previous processors, it is also true that defining the power of a quantum system is not an easy task and, as the IBM researchers themselves explained, there is much more than the number of qubits to the equation that defines it. IBM is proposing Quantum Volume as a metric to characterize the computational power of quantum systems. This metric takes into account the number of qubits as well as the circuit depth, which determine respectively whether a quantum algorithm can be run or not, and the fidelity to the correct answer that can be expected. This in turn depends on how the qubits are connected and on the error that each basic operation can introduce.

The field of quantum computing has seen growing interest in recent years and IBM is not the only player. In particular, D-Wave Systems is taking a slightly different approach to IBM by selling quantum computers to the likes of NASA and Google. Chinese researchers already achieved the milestone of a 10 qubit processor and have announced plans to scale up their quantum processor to 20 qubits by the end of the year. Additionally, Google, Microsoft, and others have announced plans to enter the quantum computing field in the coming years.

As InfoQ reported, IBM provides a Python-based quantum development SDK called QISKit that can be used to run experiments on the IBM Q processors. IBM’s new 16 qubit processor is available for beta access, while the 17 qubit one is still considered a prototype.

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