Quantum computing – part 2

Held a briefing recently with IBM, to discuss their recent Q Systems One announcements and their Quantum Compting Cloud. IBM Q Systems One currently offers 10 quantum computers usable by any IBM Q premiere partners. Not clear what in costs, but there aren’t many available for use anywhere else. .

On the call they announced the coming availability of their 53 qubit QC to be installed at their new IBM Quantum Computing Center in Poo’keepsie, New York. The previous IBM Q systems were all located in Yorktown Heights center and their prior largest systems were 20 qubits.

At this time in the industry running quantum computing algorithms generate probabilistic results and as such need to be run many times to converege onto a reliable answer. IBM calls these runs quantum shots. It’s not unusual to run 1000 quantum computing shots to generate a solution to a quantum algorithm. They call running any number of quantum shots to generate an answer a quantum experiment or computation

On the call they mentioned besides the 160K registered users they have for IBM Q Systems One, there’s also over 80 commercial partners. IBM is moving to a cloud version of their development kit Qiskit which should start slowing their download counts down.

Last week in our race for quantum supremacy post we discussed Google’s latest quantum computer with 54 qubits. In that system each qubit had 4 connections (one to each of its nearest neighbors). IBM decried the lack of a peer-reviewed research paper on their technology which made it difficult to understand.

NISQ era

The industry describes the current quantum computing environment as Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) technology (for more information see Quantum computing in the NISQ era and beyond paper). The hope is that someday we’ll figure out how to design a quantum computer that has sufficient error correction, noise suppression, and qubit connectivity to perform quantum computing without having to do 1000 quantum shots. Although, quantum mechanics being a probabilistic environment, I don’t foresee how this could ever be the case.

IBM appears to be experimenting with other arrangements for their qubit connections. They say the more qubit connections the noisier the system is, so having fewer but enough to work, seems to be what they are striving for. Their belief is that smart (quantum computing) compilers can work with any qubit connectivity topology and make it work for a problem. It may generate more gates, or a deeper quantum circuit but it should result in equivalent answers. Kind of like running a program on X86 vs. ARM, they both should generate the same answers, but one may be longer than the other.

At the moment IBM has 10 QCs that are going to be split between Poo’keepsie and Yorktown Heights (IBM research), in Yorktown 3-20qubit QC, 1-14qubit QC, as well as 1-5qubit QC and in Poo’keepsie 2-20qubit QC as well as 3-5qubit QC. As I understand it, all of these are available for any IBM Q registered users to run (not sure about the cost though).

The new IBM Q System

The new IBM Q System One 53 qubit system is arrayed with mostly 2 qubit connections and only a select few (11) having 3 qubit connections. This seems to be following down the path of their earlier Q Systems that had similar levels of connectivity between quits.

Quantum Supremacy vs. Quantum Volume

Rather than talking about Quantum Supremacy, IBM prefers to discuss Quantum Advantage and it’s all about Quantum Volume (QV). QV provides a measure of how well quantum computers perform real work. There’s many factors that go into QV and IBM offers a benchmark in their toolkit that can be run on any gate-based, quantum computer to measure quantum volume.

IBM plans to double QV every year and in a decade, they believe they will have achieved Quantum Advantage. Current IBM Q Systems One QC have a QV of 8 or 16. IBM claims that if they can double QV every year they should reach Quantum Advantage in a decade (2029)!

They have yet to measure QV on their new, as yet to be built, 53 qubit quantum computer. But they say, given all the factors, over time the same quantum computer can have different QV. And even though IBM’s 53 qubit quantum computer will be built shortly, some of the components will likely change over time (e.g. microwave drivers) as they find better technologies to use, which will impact QV.

Qiskit, IBM’s open source, quantum computing stack

There was lots of talk about Qiskit being opensource (Qiskit GitHub). This means anyone can take advantage of it to generate solutions for their own quantum computer.

It’s written in Python3 and consists of 4 components:

Ignis – which provides characterization tools and error mitigation tools

Aqua – which provides a framework for users to leverage QC to perform algorithms and provides current QC algorithms that have been proved out to work

Aer – which provides special purpose (classical computing) simulators for QC algorithms to run on

Terra – which seems to be the low level programming for IBM’s QC, presumably this would need to be customized for every quantum computer.

IBM seems to be trying to make Qiskit easily usable. They have created a Youtube video series on it, with Qiskit API and other educational resources, to make quantum computing on IBM Q Systems One more widely usable..

IBM also announced they will add another Quantum Computing center at an yet to be announced, IBM facility in Germany. It seems that IBM wants to make quantum computing something everyone, across the world, can use.


Some would say we are very early in the use of quantum computing technology. On the other hand, Google, IBM and others companies are using it to perform real (if not theoretical) work. The cloud seems like a great vehicle for IBM to introduce this sort of technology to a wider audience.

Luckily, I have 10 more years to change out all my data encryption to a “quantum proof ” encryption algorithm. Hopefully, one can be found by then.

Photo Credit(s):

Screen shots from IBM’s Q Systems One briefing...