IBM now has 18 quantum computers in its fleet of weird machines

IBM now has 18 quantum computers in its fleet of weird machines

IBM now has 18 quantum computers, an increase of three this quarter that underscores the company’s effort to benefit from a revolutionary type of computing. Dario Gil, head of IBM Research and a champion of its quantum computing effort, disclosed the number at the Big Blue’s Think conference Wednesday.

Eighteen quantum computers might not sound like a lot. But given that each one is an unwieldy device chilled within a fraction of a degree above absolute zero and operated by Ph.D. researchers, it’s actually a pretty large fleet. In comparison, Google’s quantum computers lab near Santa Barbara, California, has only five machines, and Honeywell only has six quantum computers.

Quantum computing is no longer in its infancy, but it’s probably only made it to early toddlerhood. The technology today remains exotic and expensive, with largely unproven benefits. But companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel and Honeywell along with startups like IonQ, Quantum Circuits and Rigetti Computing are racing to bring quantum computing to maturity. Their hope is to cash in on customers’ desire to solve classes of computing problems that are impossible for conventional computers.

You’re not likely to ever have your own quantum computer since they’re so hard to operate, surrounded by hulking cooling equipment and isolated from outside interference that spoils calculations. Instead, you’ll be able to tap into them via cloud computing services. So far, 230,000 people have done so with IBM’s Q Experience, Gil said.

IBM is working to make its quantum computers accessible to mere mortals, not just those who understand the weird physics concepts like superposition and entanglement that make quantum computers tick. It’s doing so by packaging computational operations into standard recipes it calls circuits that apply a sequence of transformations to qubits, the quantum data storage elements that are far more adaptable than conventional computers’ bits.