IBM’s biggest quantum chip yet could help solve the trickiest math problems
Quantum computer ,, though they are finicky and delicate in their current forms, promise to excel at certain tasks. One, they should solve certain types of math problems linear algorithm more quickly than traditional computers. This is due to a design flaw.
Classical computers use binary switches to represent information as one or zero. Qubits, the quantum equivalent, can represent information in one, zero, or a combination thereof. Qubits are able to store waveforms, instead of bits that can store on-or off states.
In this quantum field, IBM’s scientists have been hard at work updating their suite of software and hardware inside a device that seeks to solve problems that are difficult or impossible for the best classic computers.
In May IBM presented a bold roadmap to make quantum computing more powerful and practical. At the IBM Summit this week, the company announced the checkpoints they’ve hit so far, including a newly completed 433-qubit processor called Osprey, and updated versions of their quantum software.
These devices must be kept at extremely cold temperatures by using specialized cooling and fridge systems. IBM shared a progress report on where they are in assembling the different parts that will comprise their 2023 cryogenic fridge infrastructure, which is called System Two. It is responsible for keeping all quantum computing equipment safe and stable.
IBM’s quant chips are named after birds. Osprey, which is almost three times larger than a previous 127-qubit chip called Eagle, uses many of the same technologies and designs, like a hexagon lattice structure on the chip surface that holds all the qubits. But 400 qubits can be a lot to manage, so engineers are constantly experimenting with fabrication techniques or small changes in design to make the processors less noisy and more efficient.
“When you need to engineer it 3x, there are things that must be done to ensure it works,” states Jerry Chow, director for quantum hardware system development at IBM Quantum. “With the Osprey, much of it comes down further developing and scaling multi-level wiring that was common with the Eagle stack, as well as ways to optimize it to pack more qubits together .”
One way to do this is to modify the structural component of the quantum computer. Replacing the hand-crafted coaxial cable with a ribbon-like, higher density cabling called Flex wiring reduces both the cost and the overall footprint. These ribbons can be rolled up and stacked in a staircase-like fashion to connect the various plates of the fridges. This can increase the number of signals that can be relayed.
The team also announced new processors and improvements to older chips such as Eagle , Falcon, and Falcon.
One metric IBM has been working to improve across all its chips, is the coherence of the qubits. The qubits’ coherence time is the length of time they remain in their wave-like quantum states. This property can be lost by qubits if there is too much noise interference from the environment. This can cause problems with the results of the calculations. The performance of a chip is affected by its coherence time, the time it takes to perform a quantum gate and the number of available qubits. They also limit the number of problems a particular device can handle.
Right now, the median coherence time for Osprey is around 70 to 80 microseconds. Chow and his coworkers have been increasing the coherence times for qubits on older chips like Falcon and Eagle by three.
“Falcon increased by a factor of three to around 300 to 400 microseconds. Eagle, last year when we released it, it was in the 90 microsecond to 100 microsecond range,” Chow says. “Now, we have our Eagle revision three which can also hit 300 microseconds of coherence times.”
The second Osprey revision, which is currently being assembled, shows a similar improvement to its coherence times.
IBM haven’t yet released Osprey to any clients. Chow states that Osprey is still in the process of figuring out how it works and characterizing it.
The summit was also an opportunity to demonstrate all the applications that IBM’s partners have found so far with quantum technology, including using it for detecting gravitational waves, finding fraud in card payment data, calculating weather-related risks for energy storage problems, and simulating the properties of molecules to design new materials.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.