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Why IBM is leading in quantum computing

  • As IBM progresses in quantum computing, it has steadily increased its qubit numbers.
  • The Condor processor is just one of the quantum-computing advances slated for this year.

The last few years have been spectacular for International Business Machines Corp (IBM) regarding quantum computing. Not only has the tech giant done a lot of work around the revolutionary technology, but it is also considered one of the pioneers in the field of quantum computing. 

Although quantum computing remains a complicated field with lots of nuance and subtlety about the significance of qubits, noise, endurance, and scalability, the pace of innovation by IBM continues to accelerate where it’s transitioning from scientific exploration to practical reality.

What’s IBM Quantum?

IBM’s roadmap is a clear, detailed plan to scale quantum processors, overcome the scaling problem, and build the hardware necessary for quantum advantage. It started in 2016 when IBM put the first quantum computer in the cloud for anyone to experiment with—a device with five qubits, each a superconducting circuit cooled to near zero. 

By 2019, the company created the 27-qubit Falcon, followed by the 65-qubit Hummingbird in 2020 and the 127-qubit Eagle in 2021, the first quantum processor with more than 100 qubits. IBM then upped the ante last year when it launched the Osprey quantum processor, featuring 433 qubits, the most powerful quantum processor in the world yet.

That’s not all. This year, the tech giant is set to unveil IBM Condor, the world’s first universal quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits. Based on its roadmap, IBM will also be launching Heron, the first of a new flock of modular quantum processors that the company says may help it produce quantum computers with more than 4,000 qubits by 2025. 

In between, IBM’s quantum roadmap essentially consists of two additional stages — the 1,121-qubit Condor and 1,386-qubit Flamingo processors in 2023 and 2024, respectively — before it plans to hit the 4,000-qubit stage with its Kookaburra processor in 2025. 

“These processors push the limits of what can be done with single chip processors and controlling large systems,” IBM said in its quantum roadmap. So far, the company has generally made this roadmap work. Still, the number of qubits in a quantum computer is only one part of a vast and complex puzzle, with longer coherence times and reduced noise just as important

IBM’s senior VP and research director Darío Gi claims the new 433 qubits ‘Osprey’ processor brings the company closer to the point where a quantum computer will be used to tackle previously unsolvable problems

IBM has also released a beta update to Qiskit Runtime, allowing users to trade speed for reduced error count with a simple option in the API. “By abstracting the complexities of these features into the software layer, it will make it easier for users to incorporate quantum computing into their workflows and speed up the development of quantum applications,” the statement reads.

IBM also detailed its Quantum System Two last year— basically, IBM’s quantum mainframe — that will be able to house multiple quantum processors and integrate them into a single system with high-speed communication links. The idea is to launch this system by the end of 2023, when it is a building block of quantum-centric supercomputing.

Quantum Computing: IBM ups its ante with the world's first quantum computer for healthcare

IBM has got big plans for quantum computing (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

What does IBM plan to achieve with its quantum computing feat?

Essentially, quantum and other advanced computing technologies will help researchers tackle historic scientific bottlenecks and potentially find new treatments for patients with severe diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. 

Last month, IBM made another quantum computing leap when it unveiled IBM Quantum System One. Installed at Cleveland Clinic in the US, it is the first quantum computer in the world to be uniquely dedicated to healthcare research to help Cleveland Clinic accelerate biomedical discoveries.

“Quantum computing is a rapidly emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems that today’s most powerful supercomputers cannot practically solve. The ability to tap into these new computational spaces could help researchers identify new medicines and treatments more quickly,” IBM said in a March 20 statement.

“By combining the power of quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other next-generation technologies with Cleveland Clinic’s world-renowned leadership in healthcare and life sciences, we hope to ignite a new era of accelerated discovery,” Arvind Krishna, IBM Chairman and CEO, said.

In addition to quantum computing, through the Cleveland Clinic-IBM Discovery Accelerator, a variety of IBM’s latest technological advancements was drawn upon, including high-performance computing via the hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence. 

“Researchers from both organizations are collaborating closely on a robust portfolio of projects with these advanced technologies to generate and analyze massive amounts of data to enhance research,” IBM noted.

Quantum computers and the issue of scaling

Going beyond single-chip processors is the key to solving scale for IBM. In 2023, the company plans to introduce classical parallelized quantum computing with multiple Heron processors connected by a single control system. “In 2024, we will debut Crossbill, the first single processor made from multiple chips. 

The same year will also unveil our Flamingo processor. This remarkable processor will incorporate quantum communication links, allowing us to demonstrate a quantum system comprising three Flamingo processors totaling 1,386 qubits,” it said.

By 2025, IBM will combine multi-chip processors and quantum communication technologies to create its Kookaburra processor. “This will demonstrate a quantum system of three Kookaburra processors, totaling 4,158 qubits. This leap forward will usher in a new era of scaling, providing a clear path to 100,000 qubits and beyond,” it added.