IBM announced the worlds first commercially available quantum computer at CES 2019. Well. Kinda.
Called IBM Q System One, the computer is a glass box the size of a van with a sleek black cylinder hanging from the ceiling. Yet you wont find it in your garage, or in the offices of your nearest Fortune 500 company. Those willing to pay to harness the power of the 20-qubit machine will access IBM Q System One over the cloud. The hardware will be housed at IBMs Q Computation Center, set to open this year in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Reception has proven mixed. While the initial wave of news was positive, some have received the announcement with skepticism. Their points are valid. While IBMs press release touts that Q System One enables universal approximate superconducting quantum computersto operate beyond the confines of the research lab, it will remain under IBMs watchful eye. And IBM already offered cloud access to quantum computers at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York.
In effect, IBM Q System One is an expansion of an existing cloud service, not a new product. Yet that doesnt lessen its impact.
Quantum computing faces many massive scientific challenges. Q System One, with 20 qubits, isnt no where near capable of beating classical computers even in tasks that will theoretically benefit from quantum computing. No universal quantum computer exists today, and no one knows when one will arrive.
Yet, building a useful quantum computer will only be half the battle. The other half is learning how to use it. Quantum computing, once it arrives, will fundamentally change what computers can accomplish. Engineers will tackle the challenge of building a quantum computer that can operate in a normal environment, while programmers must learn to write software for hardware that compute in ways alien to binary computers.
Companies cant rely on a build it, and they will come philosophy. That might suffice so long as quantum computing remains in the realm of research, but it wont work as the quantum realm bumps up against the general public. Quantum will need a breakthrough device that wows everyone at a glance. IBM Q System One is such a device.
Impact is what IBM Q System One was meant to deliver from the start. Robert Sutor, IBMs Vice President of Q Strategy and Ecosystem, said as much, telling Digital Trends that [we] have to step back and say, What have we created so far? Its amazing what weve created so far, but is it a system? Is it a well-integrated system? Are all the individual parts optimized and working together as best as possible?
The answer, up until recently, was no. IBMs quantum computers were not meant to be used outside of a lab and were built with no regard for aesthetic or ease of use. Q System One changes that, and in doing so, it could entirely change how the system and quantum computers, in general are perceived.
This isnt a new strategy for IBM. As Sutor will quickly point out, the company took a similar approach when it built computer mainframes in the 1960s and 70s. With all the focus now, people going back to mid-century modern, IBM has a long history of design. , he told Digital Trends. We are fully coming back to that. Other examples of this tactic include Deep Blues famous chess match and the ThinkPad, which redefined how consumers thought of portable computers.
Q System One might not be a major leap forward for the science of quantum computing, but it will give the field the standard bearer it needs. Its already making quantum feel less intimidating for those of us who lack a Ph.D in quantum physics.
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