Quantum computing is quite new. So new, in fact, that they aren’t yet commercially available. However, when they finally hit the market they’re expected to outperform regular computers in a few sectors, especially machine learning and business process optimisation with a focus on risk analysis. Needless to say, businesses can’t wait to start trying them out as soon as they can.
Quantum computers are different because of their processors. Regular computers work in binary so everything is in ones and zeros, but quantum computers use qubits. Cubits differ in the fact that they can hold the value of one and zero simultaneously. This might not sound particularly exciting but it does raise the speed of the processor exponentially. A regular processor can calculate at 2 inputs half as slowly as a qubit processor (if they both have 1 bit and one qubit). But if we get a 4 qubit and 4-bit processor, the 4-bit processor can calculate 4 inputs while at the same time the 4 qubit can process 16 inputs. Since IBM has a 16 qubit computer at the moment, it’s a pretty big deal for speed as this computer can process 65536 inputs compared to 16 if it was a 16-bit computer.
IBM has put the 16 qubit computer online for customers of IBM Cloud to experiment. It has already been used to conduct over 250,000 experiments by users. IBM have also said they have a 17 qubit prototype system which offers significantly more performance ability than the 16 qubit. IBM isn’t the only player in the market with start-ups like Rigetti computing and Cambridge Quantum Computing also in the game, though their focus is also on software and cryptography as well. Money is coming in too as the European Commission put a $1.13 billion USD project to develop quantum technologies and the Chinese Science Academy announced that it was also working on building a quantum computer.
While comparing qubit performance against regular computers is somewhat simple, comparing quantum performance against each other is harder since it’s a new field and the metrics aren’t all there yet. A lot depends on the quality of the qubits in the processor and since this relies on quantum physical actions at the atomic level, they’re very much hard to get a read on due to obvious instability. Hence, IBM is proposing a new metric called quantum volume which measures the reliability of the calculations done by the interconnection between qubits.
The goal for IBM is to produce a 50 qubit quantum computer soon for the commercial market. It goes without saying this would revolutionise business operations in high-risk fields such as petroleum engineering and logistics.Researchers have estimated that big business problems will be able to be solved by quantum computing in 5 to 10 years.Having this much speed on hand will certainly have an impact on strategy and operations. Tasks which might have taken months to analyse can potentially be done almost immediately and with this knowledge, decision-making processes can be streamlined.