IBM’s New Software Will Make Quantum Programs Run 100 Times Faster

The companies building quantum computers have made incredibl e progress in recent years, and the hardware is only half the problem. N ow industry leader IBM has shared its vision of how we’re going to develop the software that will put these machines to good use.
So far, much of the media coverage around quantum computers has revolved around the race between IBM and main competitor Google to squeeze the most qubits into a processor. Last yea r, IBM even revealed its roadmap for the future of quantum computers , which predicts a 1,121 qubit device by as soon as 2023.
But these machines won’t be of any use unless we have programs to run on them. And because of the strange way quantum computers operate, we won’t be able to just boot up software designed for classical computers.
For a start, the underlying hardware is vastly different from the transistors traditional computers are built from, and there are actually multiple competing technologies than run the gamut from superconducting coils to trapped ions .
On top of that, rather than using this hardware to implement the kind of binary bits that software designers are used to, whose values can either be 1 or 0, the qubits at the heart of quantum computers can occupy various states that are a combination of both 1 and 0.
These qubits aren’t neatly defined the way bits in a classical computer are. Much of the power of these machines comes from using the quantum phenomenon of entanglement to intrinsically link the values of many qubits. This is why the power of quantum computers scales exponential ly with the number of qubits, but it makes dealing with the qubits a major headache.
The probabilistic nature of quantum physics also means that the way quantum computers reach answers is very different from classical computers. T hey often have to run the same problem many times and take an average of the results rather than follow a neat, logical path.
All of this means that every layer of the computing stack needs to be redesigned, and IBM has now unveiled its vision f or how this process should proceed. Key to their strategy is an open-source approach to the problem, pulling as many developers into the process as possible, and they’ve tried to match their software milestones to the hardware ones they released last year.
A look at IBM’s roadmap to advance quantum computers from today’s noisy, small-scale devices to larger, more advance quantum systems of the future. Credit: StoryTK for IBM The first step will be to develop the lowest level of software that will actually control the operation of the underlying hardware. To that end, the company plans to release an update to its Qiskit software used to run quantum programs on a variety of hardware sometime this year.
Operating a quantum computer actually involves a delicate interplay between...