IBM is offering the world a taste of quantum computing for free, hoping that crowdsourcing can unearth some radical new applications for the technology.
The processor has five quantum bits (qubits) — which is quite advanced. It was just a year ago that IBM made a big deal about a four-qubit processor, and IBM estimates that a 50-qubit computer would be powerful enough to outperform conventional supercomputers.
Quantum computing is not a full replacement for x86s. With qubits requiring temperatures just a sliver above absolute zero, the technology isn’t exactly practical for running Microsoft Office. But quantum computing, with bits that can simultaneously represent “0” and “1” and that exploit the property known as quantum entanglement, has proven superior to conventional computing when it comes to particular classes of problems, such as optimization.
What’s important in today’s announcement is the attempt to demystify quantum computing. There’s probably a business angle to that. The more people who know how to wield the technology, the bigger the potential market will be when IBM is ready to commercialize it.
To that end, the quantum-processor experience has a catchy name — the Quantum Experience — and it comes with tutorials and simulations, to let users get their feet wet with the technology.
Photo: The Five Qubits. Not a pop sensation (yet). Courtesy IBM.