Technology 4 min read

Why the Time of Quantum Computing is Now

We've been hearing for years how quantum computing is just around the corner. Now, 2019 may just be the year when we see it in full swing.

Quantum computing is at the same stage now that the Internet was in the 90s, it's only a matter of time before it becomes global. ¦ Shutterstock

Quantum computing is at the same stage now that the Internet was in the 90s, it's only a matter of time before it becomes global. ¦ Shutterstock

The world’s ready for quantum computers, but are quantum computers ready for the world?

Classical computers can, in theory, solve the same complex math problems thrown at quantum processors, but they would take an awful lot more time and energy.

Quantum superiority has remained confined to theoretical conjectures for a long time.

But scientists have finally provided conclusive proof of quantum computers’ advantage over their silicon-based counterparts.

The funds and legions of scientists and engineers mobilized around the technology and the milestones already achieved makes us think that quantum computers are closer than ever.

Several major tech companies and startups are working on becoming vendors of quantum computing systems. That’s the commercial part.

D-Wave, for example, has been selling quantum computing systems for years, and IBM just unveiled the world’s first integrated quantum computer for commercial use.

But where are they really on the technical front? In other words, how universal are current quantum computing solutions?

Commercial Vs Universal Quantum Computers

D-Wave Systems Inc. claims itself to be the first ever quantum computing company in the world and “the leader in the development and delivery of quantum computing systems and software.”  

Twenty years after its foundation, D-Wave is so far also the only vendor of quantum machines in the world.

D-Wave’s machines are definitely commercial quantum computing systems.

They have sold their computing systems to several clients who spend millions on acquiring D-Wave hardware, such as Lockheed Martin, Google, NASA and other companies like Volkswagen.

The company offers its 4th generation machine, the 2000Q System, to buyers as a standalone system, and leasers through the cloud.

On February 27, D-Wave unveiled a preview of its next-gen quantum computing platform that comes with over 5,000 qubits. Pegasus is the new topology of the 5000Q system where every qubit is linked to 15 other qubits for more efficiency, compared to the 2000Q system that connects every qubit to six others.

But no matter how many units sold, D-Wave’s quantum systems aren’t universal. They’re intended for a niche of calculations. Based on “quantum annealing”, D-Wave machine is more of a quantum simulator than a true quantum computer.

Unless you can provide a place that’s 180x colder than interstellar space – because D-Wave processors only operate in a super-frigid environment, about -273 °C – they aren’t for you.

Where it stands, the current quantum technology isn’t compatible with room temperature operation. The U.S. Navy has patented a room-temp superconductors solution, so who knows what the near future might be holding.

D-Wave Systems Inc. is one of the top companies that are developing their quantum computing systems.

THE leading contender on the list, however, with a comprehensive roadmap, is IBM.

Read More: 11 Companies set for a Quantum Leap in Computing

IBM Research made quite a splash at CES 2019 in Las Vegas with its Q System One presented as “the world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use.”

Other than corporate clients with deep pockets who would be willing to buy the Q System one, IBM also intends to lease it via the cloud. The company said the first IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for commercial clients would open in New York in 2019.

The word “integrated” means the 20-qubit system includes all the electronic components it needs for operation, including and especially the cooling mechanism.

Thus, IBM’s Q System One is the first quantum computing system to run outside research labs.

Read More: New Diamond Qubits Solve Decade-Old Quantum Problem

So does this mean quantum computers are finally ready to replace classical computers everywhere, especially at homes?

Not really.

We are a long way off from quantum desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and wearables.

These machines that defy classical physics are like to Formula One cars. What’s the point of riding in one only to get stuck in traffic jams? Along with the maturing technology, both the needs of average people and infrastructure have to develop for universal quantum computers to become ubiquitous.

Now, it seems like cloud-based quantum computers will be the norm for a while. Aside from IBM and D-Wave, other companies like Google and Rigetti make their quantum systems commercially-available online.

Users can have access to quantum processor online and remotely execute quantum software via, guess what, a good old silicon computer.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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