March 4, 2024

Taking flight with Heron and Condor: the latest advances in quantum computers

IBM has just announced the latest advance in its mission to make practical, commercialized quantum computers a reality: a 1,000+ qubit processor called ‘Condor’ and an error-correction-focused processor called ‘Heron’.

Quantum computers represent a new approach to machine-based computing. By using qubits capable of superposition and entanglement, quantum computers have the potential to perform faster and more complex calculations than the classical bits used in more traditional computers. Unlike traditional computing, where bits represent 0 or 1, qubits in quantum computing can represent both states simultaneously. Importantly, this makes quantum computing complementary to classical computing and not a replacement; excels at tasks such as molecular simulations and system optimizations, while classical computing is better suited for everyday tasks.

It is because of the types of tasks that quantum computing should excel at that this technology is so vaunted. Developing a computer capable of performing complex calculations orders of magnitude faster than its traditional counterparts is worth developing, as its use cases have the potential to change the world and our understanding of it.

The Heron and the Condor from IBM

With its announcement, IBM has made significant progress in quantum computing by launching two advanced quantum processors: Heron and Condor.

The Heron processor, included in the ibm_torino quantum system, represents a leap forward with its 133 fixed-frequency qubits and tunable couplers, offering a 3-5x performance improvement compared to its previous 127-qubit Eagle processors. This advance virtually eliminates “crosstalk” (unwanted interaction or interference between qubits) and lays the foundation for future hardware development. Notably, IBM is already using these chips in its ‘modular architecture’ Quantum System Two computing platform.

On the other hand, the Condor processor, a quantum processor with 1,121 superconducting qubits, is an equally notable innovation. It increases qubit density by 50%, incorporates advances in qubit manufacturing, and integrates more than a mile of high-density cryogenic wiring within a unique dilution refrigerator (a tool used to achieve extremely low temperatures, typically near Absolute zero). Condor’s performance is comparable to the company’s previous 433-qubit Osprey processor, marking an important milestone in scaling and informing future hardware design in quantum computing.

These IBM developments are critical to pushing the boundaries of quantum utility and moving toward quantum-centric supercomputing.

Applications and limitations

As mentioned above, quantum computers are so lauded because of their potential to greatly advance our understanding of almost every field of science. The following are just a few examples of these.

Medicine: In medicine, quantum computing could revolutionize drug discovery by simulating the behavior of molecules at the quantum level. This allows for more accurate predictions about how potential drugs might interact with the human body, accelerating the development of new drugs and reducing costs.

Meteorology: In meteorology, quantum computers could analyze large amounts of weather data more efficiently than classical computers. This would lead to more accurate weather predictions and a better understanding of climate change, which would help mitigate natural disasters and plan agricultural strategies.

Solving complex problems: Quantum computing could address problems that currently cannot be solved with classical computers, such as optimizing large systems for logistics and supply chains, or solving complex mathematical problems. This has broad implications for several sectors, including transportation, energy and finance.

It is also important to recognize that we cannot know what we cannot imagine. That is to say, there will be dozens of unexpected advances that will be possible thanks to the capabilities that this technology will one day provide.

“Quantum computing is the future of computing. “It will open up new possibilities for scientific discovery and technological advancement that we cannot even imagine today.” – Arvind Krishna, president and CEO of IBM, in an interview with CNBC

Given that quantum computers represent such a monumental technological achievement, it should come as no surprise that there have been, and continue to be, significant obstacles and limitations that must be overcome over time. For example, quantum computing currently faces challenges in error correction, scalability, and the development of practical algorithms.

Over time, other, previously unexpected obstacles are likely to arise due to a rudimentary but growing understanding of quantum mechanics. The complexity and potential of quantum physics is emphasized in the following quote.

“If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” – Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner in Physics

As things stand, these limitations mean that quantum computers are not yet ready for widespread use. With recent advances, optimistic timelines point to another decade before this happens.

Education for the future quantum computing workforce

In decades past, quantum computing seemed so far in the future that courses teaching it were few and far between. Now that we begin to glimpse a future in which they will actually be used, the need to train the next generation of scientists and engineers who will be responsible for continuing this advance only increases. As a result, many universities now offer specialized courses and programs in quantum computing to prepare a qualified workforce for this emerging field.

  • The Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo is a notable example that combines academic research with the drive to commercialize the technology. Funded by Mike Lazaridis, creator of BlackBerry, it employs about 296 researchers and has published more than 1,500 research articles.
  • Oxford University has a long history in quantum computing, with important contributions to the field, including the first working pure-state NMR quantum computer.
  • Harvard Quantum Initiative of Harvard University is focused on advancing the science and engineering of quantum computers and their applications, preparing for what it calls the “second quantum revolution.”
  • MIT Center for Theoretical Physics delves into quantum information and quantum computing, exploring quantum algorithms, quantum information theory, and the experimental realization of quantum computers.
  • National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University Center for Quantum Technologies and Center for Quantum Information and Computing at the University of California Berkeley They are also pioneers in quantum computing education, focusing on the research and development of quantum devices.
  • Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland collaborates with important institutions such as NIST and LPS, carrying out extensive research programs dedicated to the control and exploitation of quantum systems.

Industry players advancing quantum computing

While the aforementioned schools may be training the next generation of quantum computing specialists, the following companies are paving the way to this future.

1. International Business Machines Corporation

Market cover P/E Ratio Earnings per share (EPS)
146,729,024,781 21.35 $7.54

IBM has long been a leader in the development of quantum computers. The company aims to democratize the development of quantum computing through initiatives such as Qiskit Patterns. IBM has also expanded its roadmap to achieve practical large-scale quantum computing, focusing on new modular architectures and networks that could enable quantum systems with hundreds of thousands of qubits, essential for practical quantum applications.

2. Microsoft Corporation

finviz dynamic chart for MSFT

Market cover P/E Ratio Earnings per share (EPS)
2,751,274,868,949 36 $10.33

Microsoft’s efforts in quantum computing focus on cloud integration and collaboration. The company has introduced quantum machines with the highest quantum volumes in the industry on Azure Quantum, including partnerships with IonQ, Pasqal, Quantinuum, QCI, and Rigetti. This integration facilitates experimentation and is a step towards scaled quantum computing. Microsoft emphasizes the importance of a global ecosystem to realize the full potential of quantum computing and plans to deliver its Quantum Machine as a cloud service through Azure, ensuring safe and responsible use of this emerging technology.

3. Alphabet Inc.

finviz dynamic chart for GOOGL

Market cover P/E Ratio Earnings per share (EPS)
1,636,028,940,000 25.17 $5.21

Alphabet, through its Google Quantum AI lab, has made significant progress in quantum computing. In 2023, Google scientists announced a major milestone in reducing the error rate in quantum computing, a long-standing challenge in the field. Their research, published in the journal Nature, describes a system capable of significantly reducing the error rate and implementing error correction codes that can detect and correct errors without compromising information. Previously, in 2019, Google claimed to have achieved “quantum supremacy” with its Sycamore machine, performing a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken a conventional supercomputer 10,000 years, demonstrating the potential of quantum computing to solve complex problems that range far away. beyond traditional computing capabilities.


Conclusion

Quantum computing represents an innovative leap in the world of computing and offers the potential to revolutionize a large number of fields. While IBM’s recent advances with the Heron and Condor quantum processors signify significant progress toward practical quantum computing, the technology continues to face significant challenges in error correction, scalability, and algorithm development, highlighting the need for continuous research and innovation.

While these challenges remain, quantum computing promises to unlock possibilities we cannot even imagine today, ushering in a new era of scientific discoveries and technological advances. Its full potential is still unfolding and its impact on various industries and society promises to be profound.

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