Big tech

IBM says it's built the most powerful quantum processor yet

It's a key step toward IBM's goal of reaching “quantum advantage,” a point at which quantum systems > classical ones.
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IBM Research

· 3 min read

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If the Guinness World Records book covered quantum computing, IBM’s latest breakthrough would win big.

This week, the company announced its new quantum processor, Eagle, which it hails as a key component of the world’s largest—and potentially most powerful—superconductor-based quantum computer.

At 127 qubits, Eagle has finally broken the quantum world’s “100-qubit barrier,” which scientists have been working to beat for years. (A qubit is the basic unit in quantum measuring, the quantum version of a bit in classical computing—the former takes on both a 0 and 1 value at once, whereas a bit can only be one or the other.)

Why this is big: Quantum computing is all about taking computing as we know it to the next (exponential) level—doing math problems, modeling, and workloads that classical computing can’t handle.

  • And, essentially, the more qubits, the more computing power—and the more possibilities. Think: applying machine learning to drug discovery, predicting materials for better batteries, and more.

“Quantum computing obviously promises a lot—our goal is to achieve something that we call quantum [advantage], which is doing something that’s cheaper, faster, and more accurate than what can be done classical,” Jay Gambetta, VP at IBM Quantum, told Emerging Tech Brew. “We don’t want to reinvent programming or computers; we want to work out how quantum computing will be embedded into where developers already are and just accelerate what they’re doing.”

IBM says the new processor allows for nearly 2x as much computing power as the previous record-holder, IBM’s 65-qubit Hummingbird. (Before that, the reigning champ was a 60-qubit project at the University of Science and Technology of China.)

How they broke the barrier: Building a powerful quantum processor is kind of like city planning—you have to think 3D, not 2D. Scientists have been working to address a “packaging challenge” for years, Gambetta told us, in terms of complex wiring and getting the signal to all of the increasing number of qubits. But by building in different layers, IBM seems to have finally found a solution.

  • “Imagine you had all these roads on a highway, and you’re building intersections,” Gambetta said. “If you can’t jump or build a bridge, you’re not going to get all the roads from the outside into the middle—you have to build overpasses...It gives you the ability to cross lines and lay out the connectivity you need.”

Looking ahead: Next on IBM’s to-do list? Building Osprey, a 433-qubit processor, and then Condor (1,121 qubits), using the new layered packaging strategy. Despite the milestone, the commercialization of quantum computing is still a ways away—10 years at least, according to RAND research.

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