The quantum decade is moving faster than we expected
Quantum computing is no longer a futuristic concept. The world has entered the quantum decade – an era in which companies are beginning to see the business value of quantum computing. This year’s unprecedented advances in hardware, software and services development confirm the technology’s momentum, creating an ecosystem that paves the way for further advancements and helps prepare the market for the adoption of this revolutionary technology.
Today, there are quantum computing projects underway globally, across multiple industries, as organizations look to prepare for the day when this technology can help them solve complex problems that classical computing alone cannot solve. In Brazil, for example, organizations are exploring the potential of quantum computing to help discover new materials and chemical compounds that are critical to the development of new drugs and next-generation battery technology. From chemistry and materials science to financial and logistics optimization, the potential benefits of quantum computing are significant.
How does quantum computing work?
Quantum computing is an exciting evolution in computing. While classical computers compute in bits representing 0s and 1s, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, to take advantage of quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition, entanglement, and interference for computation — with the potential to solve problems that are fundamental and currently , , have no resolution for classic computers.
Millions of classic bits work together to process and display information – the “speed” everyone is familiar with on smartphones, laptops and cloud servers. Alternatively, the qubits of a quantum computer can be in a combination of states that are between 0 and 1, representing several computing options. The increase in computational space refers to the options that can be explored with a properly designed algorithm, while qubits cannot run multiple algorithms at the same time. But the number of options to explore grows exponentially as the number of qubits increases.
To put this in perspective, if we were to try to simulate a 127-qubit Eagle processor — IBM’s first quantum computing processor with more than 100 qubits — the number of classical bits you would need would be greater than the number of atoms contained in all of them by more than 7, 5 billion people on Earth. For reference, a single adult is made up of more than 7 octillion atoms (one octillion equals 1 followed by 27 zeros).
However, innovation alone cannot unlock the full potential of quantum computing. That’s why cooperation at the ecosystem level is crucial.
IBM has been working on the foundations of quantum computing for decades, and the breakthrough in 2022 has allowed it to expand its roadmap and put it on track to develop more than 4,000 qubit processors with both quantum and classical communication. In just two years, each set goal has been delivered and it is now possible to see the path to practical quantum computing more clearly than ever before. That’s why its roadmap has been extended to 2025, detailing a clear path to scalable, practical, problem-free quantum computing.
But let’s go by parts. You can’t get to 1000 qubits if you don’t get to 100 qubits first. Classical computers can somewhat simulate similar results from quantum circuits, but each additional qubit doubles the complexity of this task. With 127 qubits, Eagle takes us beyond the territory accessible to classical computers. By 2025, IBM will not only increase the number of qubits in individual processors, but successfully interconnect processors, creating systems with tens of thousands of qubits in the next few years.
The challenge of quantum computing is too big for anyone. As quantum moves from the lab to the real world, ecosystems are forming that support collaborative innovation and open source development. Potential ecosystems likely include a quantum computing technology partner, quantum computing developers, and academic partners.
“IBM believes that collaboration accelerates discovery, which is why we partner with clients, academic institutions, startups and developers to drive quantum computing forward. Today, the IBM Quantum team and users are researching and investigating how quantum computing will help various industries and disciplines,” explains Ana Paula Appel, Senior Customer Data Scientist and IBM Latin America Quantum Ambassador.
For example, the IBM Quantum Network has more than 190 customers worldwide, including ExxonMobil, HSBC, LG Electronics, Mercedes-Benz and other Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions and research laboratories working with IBM Quantum technology to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications.
Furthermore, communities of programmers—not just traditional programmers but also chemists, electrical engineers, and mathematicians—are training today to apply quantum concepts as they prepare for tomorrow. In this sense, it is possible to cite, for example, Qiskit, an open source community around a software development kit to create the code development tools and libraries needed by quantum programmers. The community also offers skill development and education opportunities to thousands of quantum computing students around the world, including Brazil.
Let’s move on
It’s really exciting to see how quantum technology is developing. In the financial sector, for example, HSBC is working with IBM to accelerate quantum computing readiness. The institution envisages applying quantum resources to priorities such as pricing and portfolio optimization, sustainability, risk and fraud. The bank will also strengthen the ecosystem in quantum technology through internal training programs, as well as active recruitment of quantum computing research scientists to build dedicated capacity within its innovation team.
No doubt there will be more advances in hardware and software. Appel provides more details on the IBM Quantum roadmap:
“Our goal is to build quantum supercomputers that will include quantum processors, classical processors, quantum communication networks and classical networks, working together to completely transform the way we compute. To do this, we need to solve the challenge of scaling quantum processors, develop a runtime environment to deliver quantum computations with greater speed and quality, and introduce a serverless programming model to allow quantum and classical processors to work together without conflict.”
One thing is clear: the end of the quantum decade will be nothing like the beginning. We will be working with quantum processors with thousands of qubits; we will have an entire workforce with years of quantum experience and companies will see a quantum payout.