IBM Quantum Computers: 111 Years Old Legacy of Success

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It’s been said that memories are time travel to the past, and dreams are time travel to the future. 

IBM completed this saying by traveling to the future. What does the future look like? Well, it definitely holds IBM quantum computer with its 127 qubits chip. For so long, building a 127 plus qubits quantum computer hardware was the “dream”, until IBM made it come true.

Out of the incredible ideas of quantum computing, IBM’s 127 qubits quantum computer was actually possible after a whole decade of researching, hypothesizing, and testing.

This blog will take you through IBM’s 10 years quantum computing journey to unlock the history of qubits, as well as their future opportunities. 

How it all started

Charles Bennett Flint and Ralph Landauer were the first to answer quantum mechanics questions in 1911. Their first laboratory was so modest yet so powerful, efficient, and risky. That’s where the first quantum device was born operating within the first quantum system. Little did they know that their lab was also going to be the place where all our quantum computing future started. 

IBM Quantum System One

In December 2015, the IBM team made history by launching the first cloud quantum computing system: IBM Quantum System One. In terms of features, IBM Quantum System One is built of superconductor circuit boards operating with microwave radiation pulses.

IBM Quantum System One includes a nine-foot by nine-foot encasement of half-inch thick borosilicate glass. The exterior frame controls the electromagnetic environment, helping to isolate the system components for improved performance.

The final design hardware is all stored inside a dilution refrigerator. The refrigerator’s low temperature ensures that the qubits maintain their superconducting properties canceling any thermal noises, or vibrations caused by excess heat. 

At that point in quantum research history, since the 1900s until 7 years ago, overcoming disturbances that cause the qubits to decohere or lose their programmed quantum information was a milestone by itself. 

Another game changer that transformed quantum computing was the establishment of IBM suite of cloud-based quantum systems. From that day forward, researchers, businesses, and a vibrant open-source community of developers had access to IBM Quantum Composer and IBM Quantum Lab to learn and operate quantum computers as part of their own computing workflows.

Today, the IBM cloud serves hundreds of thousands users worldwide from different fields ranging from national governments, financial services, pharmaceuticals, energy, to life sciences and more…

IBM Quantum System Two

IBM’s vision to make quantum computers available for every workflow was not satisfied by just a shared cloud. The true challenge for IBM and its competitors became even more stable, efficient, and well, commercial quantum computers. Such quantum computers require… hold your breaths… one million qubits to become commercially available. 

A qubit is like a sphere of 0 and 1 configuration simultaneously unlike bits that can be sequentially a 0 and 1. The amount of information held by a qubit scales exponentially, unlike bits once again, which scale linearly. 

The number of qubits is not the only challenge, it’s also the quality of qubits. Unfortunately, qubits are fragile, heat-sensitive, unstable, and error-prone. So, when combining a large number of qubits together on one chip, they can disturb each other’s operations. Qubits could therefore lose information or make calculations less accurate. 

The largest number of high quality qubits in a single chip record is, as expected, held by IBM. In May 2022, IBM manufactured a 127 qubits computing chip in the IBM Quantum System Two.

Let’s start by describing that IBM Quantum System Two is drastically bigger than Quantum System One 9 by 9 feet hardware. Quantum System Two comprises the famous chandelier cryostat, its wiring, electronics, and the 127 qubits chips. The distinguishing feature OF IBM’s Quantum System Two is the processor’s performance and detection of errors.

What’s Next for IBM?

In November 2021, IBM revealed its latest discoveries, insights, and innovation plans at the Quantum Summit. IBM laid out a 3 years plan to reach beyond 4000 qubits chips by 2025. It’s planning to get there through small yet steady incremental steps. 

The very next expected step is a new processor called Heron that boasts 133 qubits. The Heron chip is also said to have a different design from its predecessor, Eagle, to allow a much larger fraction of functioning of the hardware system. Following steps would be the development of the Osprey processor, comprising 433 qubits. Then Condor would be on track to hit 1121 qubits in the next few years.

Other advancements on IBM’s 2022 roadmap is circuit knitting. It’s basically the breaking of large circuits into smaller ones with equal numbers of processors each. This knitting is useful for decreasing error rates. IBM’s goals include software developments too. When IBM’s first quantum computer was launched onto the cloud in 2016, it was launched with a corresponding assembly language, called OpenQASM. 

This year, IBM will integrate upgraded twists for the classical information concurrently into their OpenQASM 3 library. It’s right about time to witness how quantum computing is offering real world services, solving the world’s most important problems.

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