It’s undeniable that we live in an era of massive technological growth. The amount of computing power used to fill an entire room now fits in our pockets. We’re seeing the rise of quantum computers that effortlessly perform complex calculations and simulations, but is it possible to buy a Quantum Computer like personal computers?
Yes, buying a quantum computer is possible, but not like a desktop or laptop computer for personal use. The technology is expensive, and the systems are delicate and being designed and utilized by start-ups and major corporations. Currently, much of quantum computer access is on the cloud.
There is probably no greater responsibility to Human Kind in many ways than the decisions we make in Quantum Computing and AI in the next 20 years. To learn more about quantum computers, keep reading. As we explain more about how they work and what they’re used for, you’ll understand why owning a personal quantum computer is currently not realistic.
Buying a Quantum Computer
If you cut through the hype, most quantum computers today are being built by companies like D-Wave, IBM, and Google for commercial applications only. The buyers are companies like NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
For an average person or company, access to these machines is through the cloud, and they do not come in a desktop or laptop version. For instance, you can access IBM through the cloud, set up an account, and sign in to IBM Quantum.
If you want a quantum computer and have the money, no one will stop you, and they are not illegal. And of course, they are expensive. Very expensive.
They can be purchased through companies like D-Wave for fifteen million dollars or more. However, quantum computers are not currently produced for personal use on the level described above, and there are several reasons why.
Quantum Computers Are Not Like Your Average Desktop
Quantum computers aren’t meant to replace standard computers, and quantum computers work better for very specific tasks. Quantum computers are, to say the least, finicky, which will take a lot of description. That does not mean that future technology breakthroughs would not allow them to replace standard computers.
Quantum computers also require a lot of maintenance, usually involving a whole team of people. They’re huge, taking up space the way supercomputers and old computers did at their inception. The fragility of quantum computers makes them impossible to keep in a residential setting.
Understanding all the reasons quantum computers aren’t found in a typical residence helps to understand what a quantum computer is and how it works.
The Difference Between Standard Computer and Quantum Computers
The critical difference between a standard computer and a quantum computer is that traditional computers use bits while quantum computers use Qubits. Bit stands for “binary digit” and is the smallest unit of computer data. Bits are binary; they’re either represented by a one or zero as in binary code. Qubits, or quantum digits, are the most basic unit of quantum data.
However, unlike bits, qubits aren’t binary and can exist in multiple states. A qubit can be in a 1, a 0, or a superposition of both called a quantum state.
- Superposition is a fundamental phenomenon of quantum mechanics and is the ability of a qubit to be in multiple states simultaneously. It doesn’t have to be a one or a zero; it can be a one and a zero, or in superposition and simultaneously be in multiple states. Superposition explains how a quantum state can be constituted as the sum of two or more states.
- Entanglement is a more complicated phenomenon. When you have two entangled qubits, changing one also changes the other, no matter how far apart they are from each other. No one really knows how entanglement works. Even Einstein was baffled by entanglement. Regardless, that hasn’t stopped scientists from putting qubits into superposition and entangling them.
How Quantum Computers Work
While entanglement can happen naturally, scientists use lasers to manipulate qubits in many instances. When qubits are entangled, it exponentially increases the computer’s processing power. When a computer uses qubits in superposition, the qubits nonbinary state allows the computer to process a vast number of outcomes simultaneously.
The ability for a quantum computer to use both superposition and entanglement means that it can process massive amounts of data in the blink of an eye. The problem with qubits is that they’re incredibly fragile when in superposition or when entangled. The slightest change in temperature or movement can break them out of that state. This state is known as decoherence.
There are many ways scientists work to combat decoherence. Physically managing decoherence can involve containing the quantum computer in a supercooled or vacuum-sealed chamber. For that reason, quantum computers usually take up a large amount of space and maintenance. There are a few ways scientists work to combat decoherence.
The Process of Superconducting Qbits
IBM offers an inside look at how their quantum computer runs. The process starts with superconductors, materials in a state that have no electrical resistance and is impenetrable by magnetic fields. To superconduct the material, which could be something like lead, tin, or mercury, scientists cool it to a hundredth of a degree above absolute zero. That’s −459.67°F (−273.15°C), if you’re curious, theoretically the coldest temperature possible.
Once electrons are introduced to the frigid superconductors, they form Cooper pairs. Cooper pairs are electrons bound with equal and opposite momentum and spin. They then tunnel through a Josephson Junction, a thin layer of non-superconductive material. This process creates a qubit.
Now that they have their superconducting qubit, it’s time for the scientists to get it to do what they want. To do this, they fire protons at the qubit, creating qubits that are in superposition or entangled.
After reading all that, it probably makes more sense why quantum computers aren’t meant for personal use. They require a massive amount of specialized equipment and personnel to run.
Quantum Computers Aren’t Useful For Most People
The general public doesn’t use quantum computers because they aren’t available for the average person to use, like a laptop. Today’s quantum computer’s purpose is to tackle significant math problems that give the world’s supercomputers trouble.
The math problem may not be complex but overly large. Current supercomputers don’t have the working memory or Random Access Memory (RAM) to store the many combinations of calculations a Quantum computer can.
Classical Supercomputers lack the capacity to “imitate” quantum systems that can work in a multidimensional space and have to analyze each combination of a problem in a linear model. Quantum computers can do a job in literally one second that takes a classical supercomputer a week. The obvious implications for this are enormous.
The Race for More Qubits
As we discuss in our article “Does Technology Double Every Year?” there are disagreements on the way Quantum Computing systems are measured. We will discuss this further in this article. The computational power of quantum computers is exponential in the number of qubits that can be realized.
Because of the discrepancies on how quantum computing is measured and the different architectures for quantum computers like gate model, quantum annealing, time multiplexing, and tunable coupling, to name a few. It is sometimes difficult to say for sure who is in the lead. But the amount of qubits is one measurement that all quantum computer designers and manufacturers are chasing.
IBM introduced a quantum computer chip on November 15, 2021, capable of 127 quantum bits (qubits). IBM’s further objective with its quantum processors is to reach 433 qubits with the Osprey processor in 2022. By 2023 to reach 1,121 qubits in IBM’s Condor processor, it will be an extensive milestone in Quantum computing.
Real-World Uses for Quantum Computers
While quantum computers are still new, their uses are being expanded and are used in new and different ways. There’s potential to use quantum computers for cryptography, machine learning, biology, and chemistry. Currently, some of the quantum computer’s most popular and effective use is creating simulations.
They’re fast, but they will not increase your WiFi speeds or stop your games from lagging or Netflix from buffering. Quantum computers are fast when it comes to math. Simulations, equations, and organizing data are some of the primary uses of quantum computers.
Because the qubits in quantum computers are nonbinary and entangled, quantum computers can very quickly create and analyze multiple simulations. Companies like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz use quantum computers to run simulations to find more effective chemical solutions for the batteries of their electric and hybrid cars.
Volkswagen has also been running simulations to optimize travel routes and improve navigation services. ExxonMobile is using quantum computer simulations to find more efficient and safer maritime routes for shipping natural gas.
Thanks to how efficient quantum computers are at running molecular simulations, there’s excitement for how they could aid discoveries in biotechnology and biochemistry. Pharmacy companies especially are beginning to use quantum simulations to find new treatments and medicines.
Companies Currently Making or Partnering on Quantum Computers
There are to many companies to list who are in the Quantum Computer industry, but several have pulled forward as industry frontrunners since the race for new quantum innovations and technologies began.
Amazon: Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab is part Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform. Their focus is identifying and collaborating with the right partners for your business and have partnered with companies with different specializations like quantum computing, AI, and computational chemistry.
IBM: IBM, at this point, is well-versed in what it takes to manage a quantum computer. They’ve been working on quantum computers for over a decade and, in 2016, became the first company to offer cloud-based quantum processors.
Cloud-based quantum processors allow users to run their own experiments through a quantum computer without dealing with the physical computer itself. They currently partner with several well-known companies and are looking to keep improving their quantum computers.
D-Wave: While the above companies all offer cloud access, D-Wave Systems did it first. Their current platform, Leap-2, offers users cloud access to quantum and standard processors and a suite of tools to help them.
Google: Google Quantum AI believes it can create a functional, error-corrected quantum computer within the decade. Among their offerings is a quantum computing service to scientists developing algorithms for NISQ quantum processors. They host virtual open-source meetings every week and welcome contributions from the community.
Microsoft: Microsoft is another company offering cloud-based quantum access. Their Azure Quantum platform also allows users access to quantum resources outside Microsoft. Some exciting paths for Microsoft Azure are topological qubits and a state-of-the-art algorithm accelerates that allows quantum computers to address climate change.
QCI: Another company taking a similar approach to resource sharing is QCI. In fact, QCI is one of the resources Azure allows users to access. QCI’s Qatalyst is a software-as-a-service that lets users and their clients access quantum resources through its cloud-based service.
QuEra’s: QuEra’s quantum computer design is based on Rydberg atom gates architecture and says it has the scalability to millions of qubits. QuEra says they have a 64 qubit computer coming soon and will have a 1024 qubit fully programable computer in 2024.
Rigetti: Rigetti uses silicon-based superconducting qubits that can take advantage of semiconductor manufacturing techniques standard in today’s computer industry.
Xanadu: It’s hard to ignore the accessibility that the quantum cloud offers, but the company Xanadu is taking things in a different direction. They are making photonic quantum computers more accessible through the cloud by building them to be stable at room temperature.
Xanadu achieved this by replacing superconductors with light using continuous-variable quantum computing. While they currently offer cloud access to their quantum computers, it’s a step toward the possibility of in-home quantum computing.
The Future of Quantum Computing Might Include Desktop Computers
There is a limited capability Quantum computer desktop version that may be available, but it is not agreed if it is even a quantum computer. Its resources will be small and not act like the proposed high qubit computers as they will be based on nuclear magnetic resonance and will utilize only two qubits.
China’s SpinQ Technology announced plans for a $5,000 desktop quantum computer at the beginning of 2021. That announcement promised a release date before the year was up, but there has been no update as of now.
Until science can offer us a desktop quantum computer, most companies and individuals will likely need to access quantum computing through the cloud. With the pace at which technology changes, it’s hard to say exactly what cloud computing will look like in the future.
As companies like Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Xanadu study and improve their current systems, the hope is that quantum computers will be available for a wide range of experimentation soon.
Quantum computing is an exciting and promising field. At the moment, it’s not feasible for the average person to own a quantum computer. High equipment costs, fragile qubits, and constant maintenance mean that most quantum computers belong to technology companies.
However, constant strides are being made to allow the average person access to quantum technology. Currently, numerous companies offer cloud access to quantum processors. While that’s enough for some, other companies are looking toward in-home options for consumers.
- The Verge: D-Wave is Now Shipping its New $15 million, 10-foot tall Quantum Computer
- WhatIs.com: What is bit (binary digit)?
- MIT Technology Review: Explainer: What is a Quantum Computer?
- Scientific American: Decoherence Is a Problem for Quantum Computing, But …
- IBM: What is Quantum Computing?
- Engineering360: Superconductors and Superconducting Materials
- Superconductors: Type 1 Superconductors
- Britannica: Absolute Zero
- Merriam-Webster: Cooper Pair Definition & Meaning
- Scientific American: What are Josephson junctions?
- IBM Quantum Composer: The Qubit
- IBM: Envisioning a New Wave in Power
- Volkswagen: Quantum Computers
- IBM: ExxonMobile Strives to Solve Complex Energy Challenges
- McKinsey & Company: The Future of Drug Development with Quantum Computing
- CIO Insight: Top Quantum Computing Companies for 2022
- IBM: Five Years Ago We Put the First Quantum Computer on the Cloud. Here’s How We Did It.
- Discover: A Desktop Quantum Computer for Just $5,000
- LiveScience: What is a superconductor?
- [2109.03494] Quantum Computational Advantage via 60-Qubit 24-Cycle Random Circuit Sampling
- First Photonic Quantum Computer on the Cloud – IEEE Spectrum