Researchers often agree that quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize entire fields of study like medicine, statistics, climatology, and others, not to mention the artificial intelligence and general computing field itself. But that promise of great change has always been closer to wishful thinking than reality. However, IBM may change all of that as it has announced it will sell a universal quantum computer in the next few years.
Quantum computing may change all of the aforementioned fields because of its use of quantum bits, information stored in small particles, that benefit from the unintuitive effects that happen at that atomic scale. In essence, a normal computer needs to execute or calculate equations sequentially, whereas a quantum computer can calculate all equations at the same time. This may lead to unimaginable increases in the speed and breadth of computing models, revolutionizing entire areas of our lives.
Unfortunately, the use of quantum bits is also what hinders the construction of quantum computers, because everything around us could interact and disorganize the entangled particles used to store information, and destroy the quantum effects needed for such a device to work.
However, IBM believes it has fixed this problem after it spent many years researching quantum computers, at least in terms of small enough systems. And the time for research is now over, as the company is moving to sell universal quantum computers, with 50 quantum bits (qubits), called the IBM Q. Big Blue has also put out an API that developers can access to code for its simulated 20-qubit system, and will put out a full SDK for its universal quantum computer soon enough.
Interestingly, the company seems to have moved up its plans a bit. As Ars Technica reports, IBM originally said it would sell a quantum computer “in the next decade”, which has now transformed into “the next few years”.
That’s very much in line with other players in the industry. At the end of last year, Microsoft announced it was making a similar move, taking its quantum computer research out of the lab and into the engineering and product departments. Meanwhile,D-Wave, the only company currently claiming to sell a quantum computer, is going forward with its partnerships with Google and NASA, despite it being unclear whether its quantum computers are… actually quantum.
Still, you shouldn’t expect a quantum processor in your iPhone anytime soon. IBM’s device will likely sell around the $15 million mark, D-Wave’s price point for its offering, so this technology will be squarely aimed at big industries for the foreseeable future. Still, that future may benefit us all.