IBM Wants Everyone to Know How a Quantum Computer Works

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada grabbed international headlines recently with a simple explanation of a cutting-edge technology called quantum computing. Now IBM is trying to do something similar by making a research-oriented quantum computer and a — relatively — simple tutorial available online for anyone to try.

The possibilities of a new class of computers that are able to exploit the most basic properties of energy and matter to speed calculations beyond what is possible with today’s digital systems has long held both promise and controversy. The systems are based on the notion of a “qubit,” or quantum bit — a basic value capable of encompassing more information than the 1’s and 0’s that are the basis of classical digital computing.

A computing system composed of just five qubits, which is what IBM built, would not be able to replace current personal computers. However, the IBM Quantum Experience will allow students, hobbyists and even serious researchers to experiment with algorithms that are radically different from the ones now used for everything from word processing to speech recognition.

“It’s meant to be educational, but also to be the beginnings of a larger framework,” said Jerry M. Chow, manager of the Experimental Quantum Computing Group at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

IBM researchers have recently demonstrated a quantum computer that they believe will one day be scaled up to a machine that might have hundreds of qubits and be able to run a wide range of algorithms more quickly than today’s computers.

Some quantum computing theorists believe that such a computer one day might be designed as a “universal” computer capable of performing any task much faster than machines now in use.

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SOURCE: NY Times, John Markoff