IBM is moving forward in its effort to enable the era of quantum computing, with a new Application Program Interface (API) that gives developers the ability to build quantum programs that could interface with current computing systems, via the IBM cloud.
The expanded quantum computing effort announced by IBM, is an expansion of the company's Quantum Experience initiative that was first deployed in May 2016. Quantum computers are very different than current systems. The promise of quantum computing is that it can make use of quantum states of matter, including entanglement and superposition, to achieve massive computer processing power. The IBM Q system is currently rated as a five quantum bit (qubit) system, and has been used to run over 275,000 experiments by approximately 40,000 different users since first being made available.
"We're now taking the Quantum Experience to the next level," Scott Crowder, CTO and VP, Quantum Computing at IBM told eWEEK.
The initial Quantum Experience was enabled with a drag-and-drop interface for programming computing experiments. Crowder noted that the drag-and-drop approach wasn't really conducive to writing real algorithms that could enable actual industry use-cases.
IBM is now providing a new approach to interacting with the quantum system, providing access to the Quantum Experience via an API.
"Now you can take a Software Development Kit (SDK) and write in Python a program that makes calls to the quantum system," Crowder said. "So the quantum steps will run on a quantum system with classical computing code running on the regular system."
With the new API and the SDK, Crowder said the promise is that developers can soon begin to write real applications, in a modern computing language and make use of quantum computing power.
While quantum computing has largely been theoretical for most of its history, with the Quantum Experience, IBM has built up 10 months of understanding how to keep a quantum system running to handle various requests.
"The Quantum Experience has been running continuously since May (2016)," Crowder said. "That's a non-trivial feat, we're not just demonstrating a quantum computer once in a lab, this is actually running a live service."
The 10 months of live deployment so-far, has given IBM some necessary experience to understand how to maintain and operate a quantum system on a continuous basis. As a running system, the goal for IBM is now to enable the commercialization of quantum system usage. Quantum computing has applicability in many different areas of computing including financials services, artificial intelligence as well as drug and materials discovery.
There is also the potential for quantum computing to help advance the state of cloud security. Crowder noted it is possible to make use of the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics to have non-reproducible signatures for a system, that allows for the creation of advanced security control. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics theorizes that it is impossible to know the exact position and momentum of a particle at the same time.
"A lot of people equate quantum with breaking encryption, but that's not going to happen anytime soon," Crowder said.
While IBM is making the Quantum Experience available via the IBM Cloud, the quantum system itself is a separate service. Crowder explained that the Quantum Experience is currently accessible as an IBM Bluemix cloud service.
"So the public Quantum Experience is leveraging our cloud platform as the front end." Crowder explained. "Requests from the cloud to the quantum system get passed to a very different backend, that is not in a traditional data center."
As such, the actual quantum hardware is not physically managed using IBM's cloud technologies. In a cloud model, systems are set up as multi-tenant environments with many different services and applications running concurrently.
The nature of a quantum system is very different and does not easily allow for multi-tenancy on the physical hardware.
"At this point in time, the quantum system will have one tenant at a time that the classic computing system via the cloud, is scheduling and orchestrating," Crowder said.
Looking forward, Crowder emphasized that IBM's focus is on further optimizing the quantum computing model and scaling the capacity of existing systems. Currently IBM's quantum computing system can provide 5 quantum bits (qubits) of power. IBM's plan is to scale up to 50 qubits in the coming years.
"We have cloud and the internet and we need to use those components to rapidly build an ecosystem of use-cases and algorithms and the quantum system science itself," Crowder said.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.