IBM's New 53-Qubit Quantum System Opens Opportunities for Developers

IBM this week announced that in the next month its commercially available cloud-based quantum computing online offering will include a new 53-qubit quantum computer.

Big Blue brags that this will be "the single largest universal quantum system made available for external access in the industry, to date."

For software developers looking to make the leap into quantum computing applications, IBM is offering not only access to its cloud-based compute behemoth but also an open source online text book and a series of YouTube videos for self-learners.

"Our strategy, since we put the very first quantum computer on the cloud in 2016, was to move quantum computing beyond isolated lab experiments conducted by a handful of organizations, into the hands of tens of thousands of users," said Dario Gil, Director of IBM Research in today's press release. "In order to empower an emerging quantum community of educators, researchers, and software developers that share a passion for revolutionizing computing, we have built multiple generations of quantum processor platforms that we integrate into high-availability quantum systems. We iterate and improve the performance of our systems multiple times per year and this new 53-qubit system now incorporates the next family of processors on our roadmap."

Tools as well as educational resources are being made available to developers as part of IBM's plan to make quantum computing available to the world. Qiskit is a set of quantum programming tools at the heart of IBM's educational program.

In a Building Quantum Skills blog published earlier this month, Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow, IBM Q, and Abraham Asfaw, quantum education lead, IBM Q, explain how they are bringing software developers into an area where once only quantum scientists feared to tread.

"This research field has undergone dramatic changes in the last few decades, but only recently have quantum scientists released easy-to-use tools to make this discipline accessible to everyone. At IBM, we offer all the quantum programming tools you need with Qiskit and make it easy to get started running quantum circuits on our systems with the IBM Q Experience quantum cloud platform – users have already run over 28 million experiments and simulations."

While IBM is continuing to build up the capacity and capability of its hardware, the authors focus on the humans that are going to work with it. "We need more students, educators, developers, and domain experts with 'quantum ready' skills," the authors write.

The open-source online textbook, Learn Quantum Computation Using Qiskit, is a "tool for self-learners and educators preparing the next generation of quantum developers," Gambetta and Asfaw explain. "Written by experienced educators and leading researchers in the field, this textbook explores quantum computing through practical problems that are run on both simulators and real quantum hardware, with the aim of helping students connect theory to practice. And most importantly, because this textbook is open-source, the field's top educators and contributors will continually update this text to ensure that students learn the latest and most-relevant quantum computing skills."

The book is designed so developers don't need a doctorate in quantum mechanics to figure out quantum computing, according to one of its authors.

"This textbook provides a great opportunity for those who do not have a strong background in quantum mechanics to connect with cutting-edge topics in quantum computing in the shortest possible time," writes Dr. Javad Shabani, assistant professor of physics, New York University and co-author of "Learn Quantum Computing Using Qiskit"

The YouTube video component of the education program is also designed for beginners as Gambetta and Asfaw explain:

"To facilitate learning outside the classroom, we also offer the Coding With Qiskit video series. Through this series, viewers can traverse the hardest part of learning a new language—the beginning. Starting with installing Qiskit, through programming a quantum Hello World application, to investigating the latest algorithms and research topics, Coding with Qiskit will roll out on a weekly basis for any student with internet access."

There are already practical applications being developed to run on the IBM quantum computing system. In its announcement, Big Blue offers examples including a J.P. Morgan Chase option pricing system. Mitsubishi Chemical, Keio University and IBM also have created simulations "of the reaction mechanism between lithium and oxygen in lithium-air batteries."