For many years, quantum computers have only been within the confines of the research lab.
On Tuesday, though, IBM unveiled the IBM Q System One, billed as the first-ever quantum computer designed for businesses to put to their own use – though the company is clear that this is only the first step towards a broader revolution.
Quantum computing is considered one of the most promising early-stage technologies out there today. That’s because quantum computers can process exponentially more data and have the potential to completely transform entire industries. For example, they could potentially streamline aerospace and military systems, calculate risk factors to make better investments, or, perhaps, find a cure for cancer and other diseases.
“Data will be the world’s most valuable natural resource,” IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said on stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the IBM Q System One was unveiled.
Don’t expect to install one in your office any time soon, though. While the computer is open to paying customers, developers will access its power from the comfort of their own homes or offices via the IBM Cloud.
Computers today store data in binary, as either zeroes or ones – strings of ones and zeroes represent numbers or letters. However, quantum computers are much more powerful. That’s because they store data using qubits, which have a special property that allows zeroes and ones to exist simultaneously. This seemingly-small thing gives quantum computers the ability to do exponentially more calculations at once, making them powerful enough for incredibly complicated tasks like drug discovery, intensive data analysis, and even creating unbreakable codes.
Enclosed in a nine-foot-tall, nine-foot-wide glass case that forms an air-tight environment, this sleek computer is IBM’s first effort to bring quantum computing to businesses. The casing is important: Qubits lose their quantum computing properties outside of very specific conditions. A quantum computer has to be kept well below freezing, in a mostly vibration- and electromagnetic radiation-free environment.
IBM’s new system aims to address this challenge with an integrated quantum computer that solves all of that on behalf of customers – hence the casing, which keeps everything in ship-shape. However, this relative fragility is why you won’t be installing an IBM Q System One in your own office – while it’s definitely a major step forward, it’s a far ways away from being something you can order and have delivered.
“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research said in a statement. “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.”
Later this year, IBM will also open its first IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for commercial customers in Poughkeepsie, New York. At this lab, clients can use IBM’s cloud-based quantum computing systems, as well as other high performance computing systems.
IBM isn’t the only company that’s been working on quantum computing, as the technology is still far from ready for mass deployment.
Google is researching how to make quantum computers more stable and better able to find and fix errors, and it has also created and tested qubit processors as it pursues the technology. Microsoft is working on creating hybrid quantum computers, which combine the new technology with more conventional processors. Intel, too has been working on making big bets on quantum computing chips.