Ever wanted to experiment with quantum computing? Now’s your chance: IBM plans on offering a quantum computing platform via the cloud.
Big Blue suggests that “students, researchers, and general science enthusiasts” will have “hands-on access” to the platform, which will allow them to “run algorithms and experiments, work with quantum bits (qubits), and explore tutorials and simulations.” Anyone interested will need to fill out a request form, and include (hopefully good) reasons for wanting access to that much computational firepower.
IBM isn’t the only tech giant exploring the possibilities of quantum computing: over the past few years, Google has revealed tidbits about its own program. The NSA is also hard at work on a quantum computer capable of breaking through even the toughest encryption.
But how does quantum computing actually work?
Brace yourself: it’s a little complicated.
Actually, it’s really complicated.
On their most basic level, conventional computers deal in binary bits (i.e., a zero or a one, or true/false). Those bits are “definite states.” But quantum computers rely on the aforementioned “qubits,” which can exist not only as zeros and ones, but as something in-between, known as a “superposition.”
So unlike a conventional processor, which can come up with only one solution at a time (albeit very quickly), a quantum computer can leverage the infinite possibilities of qubits and superposition to explore all possible solutions at once. At least in theory, that means a quantum computer can arrive at a final answer much more quickly than a conventional one.
Still confused? That’s okay—so are many of the researchers in the field, who are still trying to figure out how to make quantum computing work reliably. “One of the primary challenges is that quantum memory elements (“qubits”) have always been too prone to errors,” Google wrote in a blog posting on quantum computing last year. “They’re fragile and easily disturbed—any fluctuation or noise from their environment can introduce memory errors, rendering the computations useless.”
At least on paper, IBM’s new service will give the company more data on how people will eventually use quantum computing, and how the technology behaves “in the wild.” If you have a computational problem that needs crunching, you might want to consider signing up for an invite.