Quantum computing is the next generation of computing. Unlike traditional computers, these quantum computers get computing power by tapping into quantum physics. Quantum computers, in theory, are massively faster than a typical Windows 10 computer and are even faster than the most powerful supercomputers we have today. When users get access to quantum physics-powered-computers over the Internet, it is quantum computing in the cloud.
A lot of research has gone into this area over the last few years, yet we have not made substantial progress because of the rather nebulous science behind the concept of quantum computing.
The good news is many startup companies as well as tech giants including Microsoft, IBM, and Google understand the importance of making progress in this field because this is truly the next big step in the world of technology and computing.
In this article, we will look at the progress made by different companies as well as a realistic timeline of when quantum computing will become a household technology.
But before that, let’s briefly understand a bit about qubits — the fundamental computation units in a quantum computer, as the capacity of a quantum computer as well as advancements made in this field are measured through these units.
What is a qubit
Quantum bits, or qubits, is the computing bits in quantum machines. In traditional computers that we use today, bits are the fundamental computing units and they can store only two values — 0 and 1. But qubits can store multiple values, and this is what makes them so powerful. To top it, these qubits can influence each other even when they are not connected, through a process called entanglement. All this means that their computing power is simply phenomenal.
This is why the addition of even a single qubit can increase the computing power of a machine exponentially. And if you’re wondering, even a few qubits are enough to outrun the best supercomputers we have today.
With such phenomenal powers, why are we not having more qubits and quantum computers in the market?
Well, creating these qubits and, more importantly, maintaining them is not easy as they can quickly change their state. In the real world, even small changes in temperature or the slightest of vibrations or noise can change the state of qubits, and in turn, increase the possibility for errors. So, companies have to come up with ingenious ways to ensure that these qubits are maintained in a stable state under the same conditions for many years — and this is the real challenge.
Let’s see how some top names in quantum computing have taken on this challenge and the progress they have made in this regard.
Rigetti computing is a startup company that has come up with a quantum processor operating with a whopping 128 qubits. Recently, Rigetti also introduced a Quantum Cloud Service, or QCS for short, that builds on its existing quantum computing in the cloud programming toolkit. This service brings together both traditional and quantum computers on a single cloud platform to help users create applications using the power of qubits.
If we can tap into the power of this computer, there is no limit to the kind of speed and the nature of computations that we can do. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have many applications to test the power of this quantum computer. Rigetti has announced a $1 million prize for any team or individual that comes with an application to test the computing power of its 128-qubit computer.
So far, only one project, that computes the simulation of a deuteron has been able to scratch the use of a quantum computer. But still, it doesn’t tap the power fully because the same simulation can be done in supercomputers too, except that the speed is much higher in a quantum computer. Other research teams are looking into this area as well, so we can soon expect a bunch of real-world applications that use QCS.
In the early part of 2018, Google unveiled its new quantum computing chip called Bristlecone. This chip comes with 72 qubits, the second highest so far. The next closest competitor is IBM with a 50-qubit quantum computer. Now, you may think the difference is only about 22 qubits, but the real difference in computing power is enormous.
Google maintains the state of qubits using superconducting circuits that are maintained at temperatures lower than what is typically seen in outer space. Google believes this is the best way to insulate these bits from environmental changes.
However, there are no practical applications available at the time of writing this piece to test the power and capability of Bristlecone.
IBM is one of the forerunners in quantum computing, as its 50-qubit computer is available for use through a cloud platform called IBM Q.
Many research teams have successfully tapped into this cloud service. According to IBM Q’s blog, a team of researchers is using IBM Q to sample microplastics in the surface waters around the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic region. Specifically, it is used to distinguish microfibers from biodegradable fibers to assess the impact of plastics in the ocean. In addition, IBM claims that more than 100,000 users including researchers, academicians, startups, Fortune 500 companies, national research labs, and others are using the free IBM Q service for their project. Even financial giants like JPMorgan Chase and Barclays are looking to use IBM Q to improve their financial offerings.
QuTech is a Dutch research organization that has been making rapid strides in the world of quantum computing. Led by Prof. Leo Kouwenhoven and located in the Delft University of Technology, this research unit has created qubits that they believe can be protected from external disturbances. In fact, Kouwenhiven claims that their qubits will be stable in all conditions just like knots in a rope, so researchers can come up with ways to harness it.
In 2015, Intel and QuTech entered into a partnership to accelerate advancements in quantum computing.
Microsoft’s Station Q
Microsoft is taking a much different approach to quantum computing. Instead of trying to stabilize the flaky qubits, it is developing a new kind of qubit called topological qubit that will be more suited to mass production of quantum computers. Named Station Q, this research team led by Michael Freedman, is based on the discovery of subatomic particles in the Netherlands in 2012.
Though this may be a better approach, we have to wait and see what this translates to because there is a raging debate going on about the very existence of subatomic particles!
Now that we have seen the impressive advancements made by these companies, it is time to get a realistic understand of where we are heading when it comes to quantum computing in the cloud.
Future of quantum computing in the cloud
Though we have made rapid strides in quantum computing, we are still quite some distance away from creating a commercial and usable quantum computer. Part of the problem is we don’t have enough applications that can truly harness the power of qubits. Today, all the projects that use quantum computing can be done on traditional computers too, though the results will be much quicker in the former. This means, currently we are unable to come up applications that will drive the use of quantum computing in the cloud, though it could happen in the future.
So, what does all this mean to you?
Just like how artificial intelligence was a few years back, quantum computing is also in its nascent stage. But it won’t be long before we start to tap into the power of quantum computers and hopefully even come up with ways that can increase their potential and computing power.
But what will be that single event or application that will change the stakes for quantum computing in the cloud?
Time is the answer. Until then, let us keep following the exciting research that is happening in this industry so we are poised to make the most of quantum computing in the cloud as soon as it happens.
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