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IBM's first ever cloud-based quantum computer is yours to play with

We are at a brink of a new era of computing. The world has changed dramatically with the Digital revolution, and now, when the term Quantum revolution is already coined in physics, we are getting closer to coining it on a general, even historical level. Today, IBM research announced making its quantum computer available for the public via a cloud service. The project is called Quantum Experience.

It means that anyone can sign up for access to a cloud based application, which is able to create and run algorithms on a quantum processor in IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in New York. The processor is operating five quantum bits (qubits), which does not sound like much, but qubits can solve certain tasks a lot faster than conventional bits. IBM states that none of today’s top 500 supercomputers can fully emulate even a 50 qubit processor.

Quantum
IBM created a dynamic user friendly interface, which can serve scientists, but also a broader public and beginners in programming; Image source: YouTube

This is IBM’s effort to make quantum computing more accessible to general public, but also to researchers who do not have an access to a quantum computer. It has tools for explaining how quantum computing works, and hence it can be used in education as well. It is running on desktop and touch screen devices. IBM Research points out that this is a step towards achieving a universal quantum computer, which would be a great milestone for information technologies, outperforming any computer built so far. Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research notes:

“This moment represents the birth of quantum cloud computing. By giving hands-on access to IBM’s experimental quantum systems, the IBM Quantum Experience will make it easier for researchers and the scientific community to accelerate innovations in the quantum field, and help discover new applications for this technology.”

In order for the quantum computer to work, it has to be cooled down to a fraction of degree above the absolute zero, which makes it quite spacious and very likely that you will not be getting one next Christmas. That is why we encourage you to try out your skills on the one that IBM has made available today.

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Citizen science is bringing quantum computing closer to reality

This story is based on Aarhus University news release written by Rasmus Rørbæk.

The line between a man and a machine is continuing to blur. Not only are computers in some ways getting better than us (one only needs to remember the recent news of Google’s AlphaGo beating a pro player in a game of Go), but we are witnessing the beginnings of exclusively human intuition being downloaded into a problem-solving machine. Enter quantum computing.

A Danish research team CODER from Aarhus University, led by Associate professor Jacob Sherson, have taken a citizen science approach to the development of quantum computing. A quantum computer represents a dramatic technological jump in terms of computing power, but reaching that potential means solving extremely complex problems that even today’s supercomputers struggle with. This is where crowdsourcing solutions one at a time comes into play.

”It may sound dramatic, but we are currently in a race with technology—and steadily being overtaken in many areas. Features that used to be uniquely human are fully captured by contemporary algorithms. Our results are here to demonstrate that there is still a difference between the abilities of a man and a machine,” explains Jacob Sherson.

One of the computer games that ScienceAtHome, another AU group, has developed,Quantum Moves, revealed the area in which humans still outperform computers. Our ability to solve problems heuristically and intuitively, based on our previous experience, is what speeds up our decision-making process in the day to day life. It is not strictly logical, and is therefore very difficult to emulate. Over 10.000 people have played the game, and helped expose the patterns behind our intuitive thinking, demonstrated on the ‘map’ below.

Visualization of our ability to solve problems. Each peak represents a good idea, and the area with most peaks - marked by red rings - are where the human intuition has hit a solution. A computer can be learn to focus on these areas, and thus learn about human cognitive functions. Image courtesy of CODER/AU.
Visualization of our ability to solve problems. Each peak represents a good idea, and the area with most peaks – marked by red rings – are where the human intuition has hit a solution. A computer can learn to focus on these areas, and thus learn about human cognitive functions. Image courtesy of CODER/AU.

“The map we created gives us insight into the strategies formed by the human brain. We behave intuitively when we need to solve an unknown problem, whereas for a computer this is incomprehensible. A computer churns through enormous amounts of information, but we can choose not to do this by basing our decision on experience or intuition. It is these intuitive insights that we discovered by analysing the Quantum Moves player solutions,” explains Jacob Sherson.

The researchers have found a common thread in how players approached the problem intuitively, essentially tapping into a collective human intuition. This can be in very simple terms described as “jumping to conclusions”, but the conclusions do end up being correct from time to time. What the team has observed is exact, and can as such be downloaded into a computer to speed up its calculations. We recommend watching video demonstration created by AU’s ScienceAtHome group to better understand the bridge between quantum computing and citizen science.

“While Hollywood blockbusters on artificial intelligence are starting to seem increasingly realistic, our results demonstrate that the comparison between man and machine still sometimes favours us. We are very far from computers with human-type cognition,” says Sherson and concludes:

“Our work is first and foremost a big step towards the understanding of quantum physical challenges. We do not know if this can be transferred to other challenging problems, but it is definitely something that we will work hard to resolve in the coming years.”

Research with Quantum Moves is still ongoing throughout the month of April, and you can participate directly.