Qubits—Not Qbert

Let’s be honest – I’m not always hard at work in my office here at bloomfield knoble. These moments are infrequent, mind you, but they do occur. While I should probably use my free time to get some form of exercise, I instead use them to pursue my side passion—quantum mechanics. Now, thanks to IBM offering access to a five-qubit quantum processor, my desire for free time (and exponential decrease in productivity) is about to go through some dramatic changes.

By exploiting the weirdness of quantum mechanics, quantum computers can store and process information as qubits, which can be a mixture of 0 and 1 at the same time. This allows them to far surpass conventional computers in certain tasks. IBM is working on computers with tens of qubits, so is putting its now-unneeded smaller chip online. “We want to make it accessible to people who might not know much about quantum computing, but are interested in learning about it,” says Jerry Chow of IBM Research in New York.

You program the chip using what IBM calls Composer, because the interface resembles a musical score. Tutorials explain how to drag and drop different quantum logic gates to create an algorithm, which is then run on the chip in IBM’s lab. Chow hopes that both the general public and expert users will try out the device, giving his team data that will inform research on larger computers. “We want to see where things don’t work as well, and the stability of the experiment over time,” he says. “We’re keen to be surprised by the algorithms external users are trying.”

Don’t worry about needing to actually understand quantum mechanics because if quantum physics sounds challenging to you, you are not alone. Everyone’s intuitions are based on our day-to-day experiences and are defined by classical physics—so most of us find the concepts in quantum physics counterintuitive at first. In order to comprehend the quantum world, you must let go of your beliefs about our physical world, and develop an intuition for a completely different (and often surprising) set of laws.

The goal with the IBM Quantum Experience is to introduce this world through a set of five short tutorials, and by providing the hands-on opportunity to experiment with operations on a real quantum computing processor. This way, they hope to foster a quantum intuition in the greater community, and spark interest in those who are curious. By making quantum concepts more widely understood—even on a general level—IBM can more deeply explore all the possibilities quantum computing offers, and more rapidly bring its exciting power to a world that thinks it is limited by the laws of classical physics.

Check it out for yourself.

I’ve written about quantum computing many, many times, but my fundamental belief remains the same—that quantum computing will fundamentally change the way computers process data. Since I am “encouraged” to write blog articles that are at least remotely tied to advertising and marketing, I believe that quantum computers will process such large amounts of data so quickly that precision marketing will look like the movie Minority Report. I doubt that any of this will occur in my lifetime, but it’s coming. Just look back to the mid-60s when direct mail began using data to better target consumers—and then think about the most recent pre-roll video you saw in your Twitter timeline. Huge leaps in advertising have been made possible by computers—and it’s really just getting started.