The question on everyone’s lips right now (and when I say everyone, I mean anyone with an understanding of quantum mechanics and/or computing) is: “Is quantum speeding up?”
In today’s blog, I am taking a look at where two of the big names in quantum computing development (Google and IBM) are at right now when it comes to creating a quantum computer suitable for wide-scale distribution, or achieving so-called “quantum supremacy”.
Hold on, what is quantum supremacy?
For those that don’t know, “quantum supremacy” is the word used to describe a point at which a quantum computer is able to correctly solve a problem that no ordinary computer can solve in “any feasible amount of time”. There have been one or two claims of quantum supremacy (unsurprising, given the kudos that a research team would receive should they be the first to achieve it), but nothing has yet been proven beyond all doubt.
If you are an avid reader of quantum news, you may have heard that Google already claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy back in October 2019. However, IBM quickly responded that they had not done so because the problem they had solved could in fact be solved by a normal computer in just 2.5 days (which they say is a “feasible amount of time”).
However, since that blunder, the search engine giants have been expanding their quantum horizons like never before…
Google unveiled their Quantum AI campus in Santa Barbara in May 2021, explaining that the campus would include the company’s first quantum data centre, quantum hardware research labs, and a quantum processor chip fabrication facility. The aim of the campus and all who worked within it would be to build an error-corrected quantum computer ready to launch out into the big wide world.
More recently, Google explained that they intend to build a useful, error-corrected quantum computer by 2029.
Like Google, IBM has been in the quantum race for a little while now, particularly from their research centers in New York and Massachusetts.
Way back in 2016, IBM launched the Quantum Experience, an experiment that saw them put their first quantum processor on the IBM cloud to allow the general public to run their own quantum expements. Since then, the concept has developed to launch the IBM Quantum Composer, the IBM Quantum Lab and Qiskit, three tools that allow anyone on the internet to access and use IBM’s quantum computer using the cloud.
The IBM quantum team really burst onto the scene with the Japan-IBM Quantum Partnership, a national agreement that invited educational institutions and businesses across Japan to join IBM in their quantum research efforts.
The company then unveiled its first quantum computer outside of the US in Ehningen, Germany, in June 2021. The computer, known as Q System One, was Germany’s first quantum computer, and was announced as “Europe’s most powerful quantum computer in the industrial context”.
Just a month later, the organisation announced another quantum computer located in the Kawasaki Business Incubation Center in Kawasaki City, Japan. A Quantum System One is IBM’s flagship integrated superconducting quantum computer, and allows Japanese researchers to run quantum experiments across a range of industries.
The latest from IBM has been the prediction that, if the existing rate of development was to continue, they would reach the order of 1000 qubits by 2023. This is exciting because it is expected to lead to an error-corrected device with more widespread application. In other words, if all goes to plan, IBM would beat Google to achieving a general-public-ready quantum computer by 6 years.
Meanwhile, On The Other Side Of Quantum Development…
Whilst the big names are working on developing quantum computers that can be rolled out into a wide variety of industries, with more practical applications than we can possibly list, some other clever people are working on uses of quantum technology that can counter the effects of quantum computer.
Now you might be thinking, why would anyone want to counter all the wonderful improvements quantum computers can and will make to our lives? And you’d be right to be thinking that way. However, with good comes bad, and (rather unfortunately), there are some pretty scary applications of quantum computers that come along with the good ones. For example, it has been predicted that within a couple of years quantum computers will be capable of completely shattering public key encryption (PKE). This is a problem because PKE is the encryption method we all rely on when we surf the internet. It is what keeps our data safe from theft and helps to prevent us from falling foul of cybercriminals. In the wrong hands, quantum computers could allow said cybercriminals to blow it to pieces and pretty much destroy the internet in the process.
In come those clever people I mentioned earlier. Companies like Arqit Limited are developing something called quantum encryption, which is basically an encryption technique that uses quantum technology to ensure our data can only be read by the intended recipient, and not some nosey cybercriminal that fancies stealing our identity.
Personally I think it is pretty important to know about this side of quantum because, well, it’ll probably be this exact technology that keeps you safe from a cyberattack in the near future…