Curious about quantum computing? IBM launched a new cloud-based service Wednesday that gives anyone access to a five-qubit quantum computer located in a New York City suburb.
Unlike regular computers that process information in 1s and 0s, quantum computers are more powerful because they use qubits, which process 1s and 0s at the same time, rapidly speeding up processing capability.
Development of the experimental and often confusing technology is still in its early stages. One problem is that qubits are unstable. That's why all the quantum computers today are kept at super-low temperatures.
IBM's new service for the first time will make quantum computing available to the general public, signaling that IBM thinks its technology is mature and stable enough for anyone to use.
Accessing the computer, which is housed in a research lab in Yorktown Heights, New York, is relatively simple for anyone with basic understanding of computer programming. IBM offers a tutorial on how to use the service. Still, it's unlikely average consumers will find much use for it. The service is a big deal, however, for researchers, IBM representatives say.
"Quantum computing is becoming a reality and it will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today's computers," Arvind Krishna, director of IBM Research, said in a statement. "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."
The rapid processing of quantum computing can be useful in applications ranging from faster and better understanding of DNA sequencing to predicting the rise and fall of the stock market. But it can also be used by hackers or anyone looking to decrypt communications. And that's something that has privacy and security experts worried. A powerful quantum computer could decrypt anything almost instantly, giving those who have access to such computing capabilities the ability to bypass today's commonly used security measures.
"Encryption keys are difficult to break with today's computers, which try combinations essentially one at a time," said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. "But a quantum computer could try them all at once and just pick the good one. That would reset the field of play to the advantage of state actors, because only well-heeled governments could afford one of these machines."
IBM isn't the only one working on quantum computing. A host of researchers at universities as well as NASA and companies like Google and Microsoft are also working to advance quantum computing.