Quantum Computers are Commercially Viable, Sort of
Not everyone will have a need for quantum computing now or in the future. In fact, a lot of consumers and even businesses have no idea what this technology is all about, let alone why it matters to them in the first place. That may be changing slowly thanks in part to the efforts of researchers at IBM. By simulating molecules on a quantum computer, they have stumbled across one of the first major commercial applications for this technology.
According to the official research, this technique can be used to allow computers to solve difficult problems in chemistry and electromagnetism. Once again, these are not necessarily use cases the average person was waiting for, but it is still an important breakthrough. Right now, the world’s most powerful supercomputers cannot solve these difficult problems. When some modification or another allows a quantum computer to do so, we will enter a new era of computing altogether.
To dive into the details, the IBM team successfully used a quantum computer to derive the lowest energy state of a molecule. Said molecule is known as beryllium hydride. Up until this point, it was almost impossible to know what its lowest energy state was. Without this knowledge, scientists cannot properly understand this chemical reaction and how it may affect our society moving forward. Granted, it was possible to acquire this information using a supercomputer, but that method would not work so well for large molecules.
Due to the very complex nature of large molecules, even the best supercomputer does not have enough processing power to calculate this sort of result based upon such a large set of variables. Interestingly enough, IBM’s quantum computer can do something that far more powerful machines are not capable of. It can utilize a dedicated algorithm to produce viable results, leveraging all the advantages of quantum computing in order to run similar calculations for even large molecules.
It is true that the quantum computers being used today are not known for their accuracy. In this case, they produce more errors as the size of the molecule grows. Interestingly enough, IBM’s algorithm limited the inaccuracy to 4%, which was a lot lower than one has come to expect. This development is an important milestone, as it shows quantum computers may have use cases most people would never have considered in the first place. Until such errors can be corrected entirely, quantum computers will only be of limited value, though.
For the time being, IBM is working on ways to improve the speed of their quantum computer while simultaneously addressing its error rate. There is no official timeline as to when any major changes should be expected, though. IBM is not the only company working on similar technology, as Google, Rigetti Computing, and Microsoft are just some of its competitors in this space. A very interesting future awaits us all.