What’s next for quantum computing
For years, the quantum computing news cycle has been dominated by headlines about record systems. Researchers from Google and IBM argued over who achieved what and whether it was worth it. But the days of arguing over who has the biggest processor seem to be over: companies are headlong and gearing up for the real world. Suddenly everyone is behaving like adults.
As if to underscore how much researchers want to get off the hype train, IBM is set to announce a processor in 2023 that bucks the trend of ever more quantum bits, or “qubits,” in play. , the processing units of quantum computers, can be built from a variety of technologies, including superconducting circuits, trapped ions and photons, the quantum particles of light.
IBM has long researched superconducting qubits, and over the years the company has made steady progress to increase the number it can fit on a chip. In 2021, for example, IBM unveiled one with a record 127 of them. In November, it launched its 433-qubit Osprey processor, and the company aims to launch a 1,121-qubit processor called Condor in 2023.
But this year, IBM is also expected to launch its Heron processor, which will only have 133 qubits. It may seem like a step backwards, but as the company is keen to point out, Heron’s qubits will be of the highest quality. And, importantly, each chip will be able to connect directly to other Heron processors, heralding the move from single quantum computing chips to “modular” quantum computers built from multiple processors connected together, a development that should help quantum computers to evolve significantly. .
Heron is a sign of bigger changes in the quantum computing industry. Thanks to some recent breakthroughs, an aggressive roadmap and high funding levels, we could see general-purpose quantum computers sooner than many would have expected just a few years ago, some experts suggest. “Overall, things are certainly moving at a rapid pace,” says Michele Mosca, associate director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.
Here are some areas where experts expect to see progress.
Linking quantum computers together
IBM’s Heron project is just the first step into the world of modular quantum computing. The chips will be hooked up to conventional electronics, so they won’t be able to maintain the “quantity” of information as it moves from one processor to another. But the hope is that such chips, eventually hooked up to quantum-friendly fiber optic or microwave connections, will pave the way to large-scale distributed quantum computers with up to a million connected qubits. This may be the number needed to run useful, error-corrected quantum algorithms. “We need technologies that scale both in size and cost, so modularity is key,” said Jerry Chow, director at IBM Quantum Hardware System Development.