What is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computing is an emerging technology that utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics to tackle highly complex problems that classical computers are unable to solve. IBM Quantum is at the forefront of this field, providing access to real quantum hardware that was merely a concept three decades ago. With continuous advancements in software and quantum-classical orchestration, our team of engineers consistently delivers more powerful superconducting quantum processors. These efforts are aimed at achieving the speed and capacity necessary to revolutionize the world.
Distinguished by their stark differences from classical computers that have been in existence for over fifty years, understanding the fundamentals of this transformative technology is essential. Let’s delve into a comprehensive introduction to quantum computing.
Why do we need Quantum Computers?
Sometimes, even supercomputers fail to live up to their “super” status regarding specific challenges.
When faced with intricate problems, scientists and engineers typically rely on supercomputers. These computing giants consist of numerous classical CPU and GPU cores, yet even they encounter difficulties in solving specific problems.
If a supercomputer finds itself perplexed, it’s likely because it was confronted with a highly complex problem. The inability of classical computers to tackle such problems is often attributed to their inherent complexity.
Complex problems are characterized by a multitude of variables that interact in intricate ways. For instance, modeling the behavior of individual atoms within a molecule poses a complex problem due to the intricate interplay among various electrons. Similarly, determining the optimal routes for hundreds of tankers in a global shipping network is also a complex task.
How do Quantum computers work?
Quantum computers possess an inherent elegance, characterized by their compact size and lower energy requirements compared to supercomputers. An IBM Quantum processor, for instance, is a wafer that is not significantly larger than the ones found in laptops. Furthermore, a quantum hardware system, resembling the size of a car, primarily consists of cooling systems designed to maintain the superconducting processor at its ultra-cold operational temperature.
While classical processors utilize bits for their operations, quantum computers operate on a different principle. They employ qubits (pronounced as “cue-bits”) to execute multidimensional quantum algorithms.
In contrast to your typical desktop computer, which relies on a fan to maintain a cool operating temperature, our quantum processors require an extremely low temperature—approximately one-hundredth of a degree above absolute zero. To achieve such frigid conditions, we employ super-cooled superfluids, which enable the creation of superconductors.
At such ultralow temperatures, specific materials utilized in our processors demonstrate a significant quantum mechanical phenomenon: the unrestricted movement of electrons without encountering any resistance. This remarkable property renders them as “superconductors.”
As electrons traverse through superconductors, they align themselves, giving rise to what is known as “Cooper pairs.” These pairs possess the ability to transport electric charge across barriers, such as insulators, through a phenomenon called quantum tunneling. When two superconductors are positioned on opposite sides of an insulator, they form what is called a Josephson junction.
Quantum computers employ Josephson junctions as superconducting qubits. Through the emission of microwave photons directed at these qubits, we gain the ability to manipulate their behavior, enabling us to store, modify, and extract data at the level of individual units of quantum information.
On its own, a single qubit may not offer much utility. However, it possesses a crucial capability – the ability to enter a state of superposition, where it can embody a combination of all conceivable configurations. When groups of qubits exist in superposition, they collectively create intricate and multidimensional computational domains. These spaces enable the representation of complex problems in novel and innovative ways.
Entanglement is a remarkable quantum mechanical phenomenon that establishes a correlation between the behaviors of two distinct entities. When two qubits become entangled, any modifications made to one qubit instantaneously affect the other. Quantum algorithms harness these interconnected relationships to uncover solutions to intricate problems.
Making quantum computers useful
Presently, IBM Quantum stands at the forefront of quantum computing hardware and software, leading the global landscape in this domain. The roadmap encompasses a comprehensive and meticulous strategy to expand the scalability of quantum processors, overcome the challenges of scaling, and construct the essential hardware for achieving quantum advantage.
However, quantum advantage cannot be attained through hardware alone. IBM has dedicated years to advancing the software required for performing practical tasks using quantum computers. One of our notable contributions is the development of Qiskit, a widely-used, open-source, Python-based quantum software development kit (SDK). Additionally, we have pioneered Qiskit Runtime, the most potent quantum programming model worldwide. (For more information on Qiskit and Qiskit Runtime, as well as guidance on getting started, please refer to the next section.)
The quest for quantum advantage necessitates novel approaches in error suppression, speed enhancement, and the orchestration of both quantum and classical resources. The groundwork for these endeavors is presently being laid through the efforts of Qiskit Runtime.
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