Quantum computers are extremely powerful, but are famously unreliable in providing a user with the same result. However, that may very well all change, according to scientists at IBM.
So, what is quantum computing, and how is it different from regular computing? The barebones of quantum computing rely on two phenomena or principles of quantum mechanics, superposition and entanglement. Superposition is the principle that a particle, in this case, a qubit, or a bit of quantum information, can be in two separate states at the exact same time. Entanglement is the principle that two particles can share the exact same location at the same time, despite a perceived distance between the two.
The difference between classical computers and quantum computers is that classical computing uses binary, or 1 and 0's. Qubits are able to be both 1 and 0 simultaneously, enabling much faster calculations to be performed as many calculations can be performed at once, compared to a classic computer that performs each calculation individually. Unfortunately, one of the main problems with quantum calculations is the inconsistency with results.
"The level of agreement between the quantum and classical computations on such large problems was pretty surprising to me personally," said co-author Andrew Eddins, a physicist at IBM Quantum
The uncertainty of the state of particles makes for what researchers call "quantum noise" and is the main hurdle researchers face in being able to successfully steer a quantum computer in any direction.
Google claimed in 2019 it reached "quantum supremacy" as it performed a calculation in 3 minutes 20 seconds that would take about 10,000 years for a supercomputer to complete. Google's experiment, while impressive, was criticized as it had no real-world application.
Now, IBM has announced a new breakthrough that might actually have real-world application as the company claims it has developed a process to reduce the number of errors in a quantum calculation, which could mean researchers are able to get quantum computers to consistently produce the same result.
"Finally, we asked both computers to run calculations beyond what could be calculated exactly, and the quantum returned an answer we were more confident to be correct," writes IBM
IBM explains in the above video that through the development of error mitigation, the company will be able to marry quantum computing and traditional computing in an effort to provide real-world value. How far away is quantum computing? Researchers are still doing their best to work around the randomness of the quantum world, with companies such as IBM and Google being on the bleeding edge of quantum development.
It's unclear how far away quantum computing is from being available at your local Walmart, but a massive hurdle will be overcome when researchers are able to reliably predict the state of qubits. For more information on this story, check out the IBM blog post here.