IBM Research/Flickr

IBM is giving people free access to its quantum computing processor online

A whole lot faster than your laptop.

DAVID NIELD
5 MAY 2016
 

Want to dabble in the field of quantum computing? Got a project that could use some next-gen processing power? Tech giant IBM might have the answer to all your processing problems, with the announcement that it's making one of its quantum computing processors available online to whoever wants to use it.

It's not quite as simple as logging into IBM's quantum computer via your web browser, though: you'll need to apply through IBM Research's website for your chance to get access to the system. According to IBM, your technology background and how much you know about quantum computing will be used to determine the kind of access you're given once you make it through the online portal.

 

Even if it's not quite a free-for-all, it's still an exciting demonstration of how top-level computing power can be made accessible to the masses through our modern-day internet.

Jonathan Vanian at Fortune reports that the quantum processor in question is stored at an IBM research centre in New York. A sophisticated cooling system keeps the chip at absolute zero, so the quantum processing can take place.

If you're not really sure wtf quantum computing actually is, don't worry - even the experts have difficulty picking apart its finer details. There's even some debate about whether we're already in the era of quantum computing or not.

That said, it's not that difficult to understand the technicalities to some extent. Quantum computing uses qubits - particles that can be in multiple states at once - rather than the standard transistors used in today's computers, which must be set to either 1 or 0. This flexibility leads to much faster and more powerful processing, because qubits can be 0, 1, or both, at any given moment.

Put that processing power to work on weather forecasts or cancer studies, and it could be revolutionary.

The IBM system uses five qubits, and is designed to raise awareness of quantum computing and its potential. Those granted access to the processor will be able to open a website where they can program an algorithm using something resembling a music bar - IBM calls it a "quantum composer".

 

The results are then compared to the findings of a standard processor. Because quantum computing is at such an embryonic stage, it might not always produce accurate results, which is why the check is so important. IBM is hoping its quantum processor will act as an important stepping stone to a full-on, universal quantum computer.

"Quantum computers are very different from today's computers, not only in what they look like and are made of, but more importantly in what they can do," Arvind Krishna of IBM Research told the press. "Quantum computing is becoming a reality and it will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today's computers."

"This moment represents the birth of quantum cloud computing," Krishna added. "By giving hands-on access to IBM's experimental quantum systems, the IBM Quantum Experience will make it easier for researchers and the scientific community to accelerate innovations in the quantum field, and help discover new applications for this technology."

With school kids in Britain being given free Micro Bits to practice their coding on, and computer buffs getting a chance to access the earliest quantum computing technology, the future is headed towards an open and collaborative approach to processing, and that's something we can all be super excited about.

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