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article imageIBM to start building 'universal' quantum computers this decade

By James Walker     Mar 6, 2017 in Technology
IBM has announced it will begin manufacturing mainstream quantum computers within the next few years. The commercial first will see 50-qubit machines go on sale this decade with performance millions of times greater than current desktops.
Having now overcome most of the major scientific hurdles surrounding quantum computers, IBM is ready to start exploring their practical applications. It has created a new division, IBM Q, dedicated to the creation and commercial marketing of the machines. It wants to build a complete system by the end of the decade.
Quantum computers use elements of quantum mechanics to complete previously impossible calculations in a fraction of a second. By modelling the unconventional behaviour of quantum bits (qubits), the machines are able to handle data with more precision than the digital approach of classical computers.
Whereas today's devices store information as binary 0s and 1s, quantum computers add a third, superposed state. In this state, the qubit is effectively 0 and 1 simultaneously. It's this unique characteristic that is driving much of the current work in quantum computing.
With the hardware almost ready, IBM is now turning its attention towards developer opportunities. It is encouraging programmers to begin transitioning towards quantum code by releasing a new API. It makes it simpler to run commands on the 5-qubit quantum machine already connected to IBM's cloud network.
IBM is currently focused on letting developers exchange data between classical and quantum systems. Because it will take a long time for a full quantum transition to occur, most programs will continue to use classical systems for their primary architecture.
Quantum systems will be accessed as required to complete complicated calculations. IBM noted it needs to find a balance that'll let classical and quantum machines coexist for the foreseeable future, without either hindering the other. It's currently working on a quantum computer simulator that developers can use to test their new programs.
"We envision IBM Q systems working in concert with our portfolio of classical high-performance systems to address problems that are currently unsolvable, but hold tremendous untapped value," Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems, said to The Independent.
IBM isn't alone in heading towards commercialisation of quantum technologies. D-Wave and Microsoft are also preparing to start sales of finished machines. In November, Microsoft said it's "doubling down" on finishing off its research, aiming to begin manufacturing complete computers within the next few years. It described the current development in the industry as an "inflection point" for quantum computing usage.
While quantum computers are slowly becoming reality, they're still a long way off powering consumer devices. IBM is likely to set pricing at around $15 million, in-line with rival D-Wave's list price. A fridge capable of reducing temperatures down to almost-absolute-zero is also required, making it unlikely you'll be holding a quantum phone in the future.
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