Quantum computing is the future of computing. These quantum computers obtain computing power by tapping into quantum physics, unlike traditional computers. In theories, Quantum computers are lightning-fast compared to a typical Windows 10 PC or a MacOS PC; it is even faster than the most powerful supercomputers we have today. When users allowed to access quantum physics powered computers via the internet, then it is quantum computing in the cloud.
Over the last few years, a lot of research has gone into this area, yet due to the somewhat nebulous science behind the concept of quantum computing, we have not made any substantial progress.
The good news is that many startups and technology giants, including Microsoft, IBM, and Google, recognize the value of making progress in this field, as this is indeed the next major step in technology and computing.
In this article, we will take a look at the current progress made by different companies, moreover, a realistic timeline of when we can imagine quantum computing as a household technology.
Before starting, let’s understand a bit about qubits – the fundamental computing unit in a quantum computer, as the capacity and the development made in this field are measured through these units.
What is Qubit?
Qubits or quantum bits are the computing bits in quantum computers. In traditional computers, bits are the fundamental computing units, but they can store only two values 0 and 1. However, qubits can store multiple values, and this is what makes them robust. On top of it, these qubits can influence each other even if they are not connected through a process known as entanglement. It means their computing powers is simply unprecedented for everyone.
This is why even a single qubit can exponentially increase the computing power of a machine. And if you are wondering, even a few qubits will suffice to outrun the best supercomputers we have today.
Why don’t we have more qubits and quantum computers in the market if they have such enormous power in its arsenal?
It’s not easy to build these qubits and, more importantly, hold them, as they can easily alter their state. In the real world, minor temperature changes or the slightest of vibrations or noise will change the qubits state, which in effect increases the probability of errors. Companies need to develop innovative ways to ensure these qubits are kept in a more stable state for several years under the same conditions — and this is the real challenge.
Let’s see how some top names in quantum computing took on this challenge and how they are progressing in this regard.
Rigetti computing is a startup that has developed a quantum processor that is operating an oodling 128 qubits. They recently announced a Quantum Cloud Service, or QCS, for short, that developed on its existing quantum computing in the Cloud programming toolkit. This service will bring both traditional and quantum computers together on a single cloud platform to help users build applications using the power of qubit technology.
Rigetti also announced a $1 million prize for any team or person who comes with an application to test the 128-qubit computer’s computing ability.
So far, only one project has been able to scratch the use of a quantum computer, which computes the simulation of a deuteron. Still, it does not fully tap the power 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 also looking into this field, so we can expect a bunch of real-world applications using QCS very soon.
In early 2018, Google introduced its latest quantum computing chip named Bristlecone. This quantum chip contains 72 qubits, the second-highest so far. IBM is the next nearest rival, having a 50-qubit quantum computer. Now, you might think that the difference is only about 22 qubits, but the actual difference in computing power is gigantic.
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Google preserves the qubits state by using superconducting circuits that are kept at temperatures well below what normally seen in outer space. Google claims this is the best way to insulate bits from environmental changes.
However, at the time of writing this piece, there are no practical applications to test Bristlecone’s power and capability.
IBM is one of the precursors of quantum computing since its 50-qubit computer can be used via a cloud platform called IBM Q.
Several research teams have successfully used their cloud infrastructure. As per IBM Q’s blog, a team of researchers is using IBM Q to sample microplastics in the surface waters around Novaya Zemlya Island in the Arctic region. Specifically, microfibers are used to distinguish them from biodegradable fibers to assess the impact of plastics in the ocean. Furthermore, IBM claims that more than 100,000 users, including researchers, academicians, startups, Fortune 500 companies, national research laboratories, and others, are using their project’s free IBM Q service. Moreover, financial giants like JPMorgan Chase and Barclays are looking to boost their financial offerings by using IBM Q.
Microsoft’s Station Q
Microsoft is taking a whole different route for quantum computing. Instead of trying to stabilize the flaky qubits, they develop a new type of qubit called a topological qubit, which is being built and will be more suited to mass production of quantum computers, known as Station Q. Micheal Freedman leads this research team.
Future of quantum computing in the cloud
Even though we’ve made rapid progress in quantum computing, there is still a long way to create a commercial and usable quantum computer. Part of the problem is that we don’t have enough applications that can fully leverage the strength of qubits. Today, all experiments using quantum computing can be performed on conventional computers too, although the results in the former would be much quicker. It means that currently, we are unable to come up with any application that can drive the use of quantum computing in the cloud, though it will happen in the future.
What does it mean to us?
Just as artificial intelligence was a couple of years ago, quantum computing is in its preliminary phase. It won’t take a long when we start to tap into the power of quantum computers, and hopefully, we might come up with ways to enhance the computing power and its potential.
What’s going to be that single event or application that changes the stakes in the cloud for quantum computing?
Well, as we say, only time can tell us about the future. Until then, we have to follow the exciting research and progress that is happening in this industry, so, as soon as it happens, we ‘re poised to make the most of quantum computing in the cloud.