The Race for Quantum

Last month I took a very close look at fog, edge, and cloud computing. It’s been really interesting to speak with various experts in industry and academia about the various trends that are converging right now to make fog or edge computing more viable for industries.

However, by now I’m sure the point is clear that even though pushing resources to the edge of the network is a great business strategy for some IoT (Internet of Things) applications, the cloud is still so important in realizing any IoT vision.

For this column I am going to take an even greater leap by bridging what we’ve been talking about so far in March with what we’re going to be focusing on in April. April will, in part, highlight the hottest buzzword of quantum computing, and will be discussing the idea of cloud-based quantum computing.

As always, we can’t talk about any topic without at least first giving a brief overview of what quantum computing is all about and how it will impact you. For the entire month, I will explore quantum even further, but for this column let’s start off with the basics so to speak, or at the very least on the same footing.

I have to admit, quantum can be a little bit confusing, just because it’s so different from what we’re used to in terms of the physics, but if you hang in there with me, I think you will understand it better or at least from the perspective of how we view it at Connected World.

I’ll start with what we know: conventional computers. Conventional computers like the one you may be using right now to read this column are based on transistors, and they require data to be encoded into binary digits called bits. Bits can only exist in one of two states at a time—either a zero or a one. Now enter quantum computers … Quantum computers use quantum bits or “qubits,” which, unlike regular bits, can exist in multiple states at the same time.  Qubits can exist as a zero, a one, or both a zero and a one simultaneously.

What it boils down to is this: Quantum computers operating on qubits can perform a large number of calculations in parallel, which could result in faster solutions to various computing problems. Quantum offers the very real possibility of solving computing problems that today’s classic computers can’t solve at all.

What kinds of problems, you ask? One frequently cited benefit of quantum computers is the ability to perform very complex molecular modeling that we simply can’t perform today due to computational limitations.

Optimization problems are also thought to be a perfect opportunity for quantum computing. Optimization strives to make something—whether it’s a process, a design, or a system—as effective and functional as possible.

Since quantum computers represent information in a fundamentally different way than classic computing, they process and arrive at solutions differently too. For instance, in quantum computing, correct answers get reinforced and incorrect answers get suppressed.

Essentially, a quantum computer can process all possible solutions at once to arrive at an answer. We’ll talk a lot more about this in the coming weeks, but for now, let’s tie this to the cloud.

Cloud-based quantum computing is being pioneered by big companies like IBM, Google, and Microsoft, as well as smaller companies and startups like Rigetti Computing, D-Wave Systems, and others.

The cloud is being increasingly looked at as a method for providing access to quantum processing. In fact, cloud-based quantum computing is turning into a bit of a race to the finish line, which is almost always good for innovation, because companies strive to bring in the best talent, cultivate new talent, and reach new milestones ahead of the other guys.

Let’s look at a couple of the players in cloud-based quantum computing, so we can get a sense of what’s going on in the space.

I’ll start with IBM. In mid-2016, IBM announced it would make quantum computing available on IBM cloud with the goal of accelerating innovation by making it easier for researchers and the scientific community to discover new applications for quantum technology.

By making quantum computing available to the public via desktops and mobile devices and allowing people to access and run experiments on a quantum processor, IBM is helping to democratize the quantum experience.

The company’s cloud-enabled quantum computing platform, called IBM quantum experience, is based on a quantum processor that’s composed of five superconducting qubits.

IBM quantum experience is basically the start of a user community that embraces the quantum world.

Google and Microsoft are also in this quantum-to-cloud game, and you’d better believe these competitors aren’t going to pass on an opportunity to be a leader in this up-and-coming space.

Earlier this month, for instance, Google presented its new quantum processor, called Bristlecone, which aims to provide a testbed for research into system error rates and scalability of Google’s qubit technology.

Let’s take a look at some smaller quantum players: Rigetti Computing. Rigetti is a startup company based in Berkeley that’s taking on the big dogs in quantum computing and doing a pretty good job at it. The company recently announced it’s making its quantum computer, which can handle 19 qubits, available through its cloud computing platform called Forest.

Forest allows developers to write code for simulated quantum computers, again with the goal of spurring innovation for this new era in computing by getting developers used to writing code for quantum processors.

What Rigetti, IBM, Google, and others have in common is they are all pushing the idea that quantum will usher in a new era of cloud computing.

By the time the technology is ready—which, in this context, means practical—quantum-to-cloud players want the community primed to release killer apps.

I, for one, think this is a fantastic approach, and I simply can’t wait to see what applications will be developed for quantum processors. Keep checking back in the month of April as I take a deeper dive in to the fascinating world of quantum computing. Despite some people talking about it being a world away, we are already seeing the big dogs take flight into quantum. And that is truly exciting. Or maybe I’m just getting nerdy, but we are seeing all the big players seek quantum supremacy. The real question is can any one company ever really achieve it since we are really talking about speed, speed, and more speed.

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By |2018-03-28T19:42:30+00:004/2/2018|

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