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IBM introduces a first quantum computer close to commercialization

January 8 will remain an important day in the timeline of the future history of IT. Or more precisely in the future history of quantum computing. So yesterday, at the CES in Las Vegas, IBM announced the first "commercial" quantum computer.

January 8th 2019 | 25 readers


IBM introduces a first quantum computer close to commercialization
Last year, IBM introduced a 50-qubits quantum computer prototype to the CES. But it was a unique machine, designed to demonstrate IBM's technological advances in the field. Not a commercial machine. 
Visually, the 2018 machine was unsaleable: a tangle of tubes and cables that took us back to the early days of the ENIAC. In 2019, IBM commissioned an English designer Map Project Office, as well as Universal Design Studio, to design and an Italian manufacturer, Goppion, to build it. A design concern to which Apple has become more familiar to us than IBM. If we go back to the history of high-power computing, the comparison with Cray is interesting. In its time, Seymour Cray also focused on combining performance and innovative design. 

IBM Q System One, the precursor of industrialization

IBM introduces a first quantum computer close to commercialization
The result is very aesthetic, even if the power of the commercial machine, 20 qubits, is lower than what IBM can do in its laboratories. The machine is called IBM Q System One, and could therefore take the enviable title of the first marketable quantum computer... but not yet marketed however!

A glass cube a little over 2.5 meters wide, accessible from the front and rear. This cube was built by Goppion, who had also done this type of glass work to protect the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum, or the Crown Jewels of England at the Tower of London.

The quantum chip must be kept at a very low temperature, around 10 millikelvins, just a little higher than absolute zero. This new design is therefore not only intended to attract, but it allows IBM to reduce temperature variations and vibrations, sources of errors in quantum calculations. A panel hides the rear part of the computer, the one that contains all the components needed for cooling the entire system.

As explained above, with a power of 20 qubits, the IBM machine is not the most powerful in the world. Google announced last March that it had developed a prototype 72-qubits machine, and they are talking about a 100-qubits. 
But IBM would have chosen to work on the quality of the calculations performed, the reduction of the error rate and the stability of the architecture, as well as its integration into existing systems, rather than simply pursuing the race for power.

IBM's ambition: to be and remain the leader in quantum computing

IBM's vision for quantum computing complements existing data centers. An additional layer, behind workstations and servers, to provide additional power in the industries of health, finance, and in artificial intelligence... initially.

It's not possible to order your IBM Q System One directly, there is no catalogue price, but IBM shows here that the path of quantum computing will combine technological prowess and industrialization capacity. IBM, through this prestigious action, shows its clear ambition in this field, not only by its R&D but also by its commercial power.

But don't rush to Las Vegas on the first plane, you'd be disappointed. The model presented by IBM is only a 2.3 meters model. All the technologies that ensure cooling are absent. It is therefore not functional. However, IBM assures, through Bob Sutor, Vice President of IBM Q Strategy, that a copy is fully functional and currently in use in Yorktown Heights, New York.

It will be several more years before the general public sees the benefits of this new technological era. But IBM is clearly one of the leading suppliers in this field.

Philippe Nieuwbourg is an independent trainer and analyst, a specialist in data analysis for... Know more about this author

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