IBM’s quantum computing journey and a hardware roadmap

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On September 15, 2020, IBM released a hardware roadmap which has an end goal of building a full-stack quantum computer which anyone in the world can programme via the cloud.

“Today, we are releasing the roadmap that we think will take us from the noisy, small-scale devices of today to the million-plus qubit devices of the future,” wrote IBM Fellow and Vice President, IBM Quantum, Jay Gambetta in a blog post. He added that “a fault-tolerant quantum computer now feels like an achievable goal within the coming decade.”

Through its journey since the mid-2000s, IBM has been “developing a suite of scalable, increasingly larger and better processors”, yet a full-stack quantum computer still seems like a big, hairy and audacious goal. Even in 2021.

Understandably, the tech major has split its journey into a series of intermediate signposts. Each year, they target devices with increasingly more qubits. A key intermediate goal in this journey is the development of the 1,121-qubit device called IBM Condor which is slated for end-2023.

We think of Condor as an inflection point, a milestone that marks our ability to implement error correction and scale up our devices, while simultaneously complex enough to explore potential quantum advantages—problems that we can solve more efficiently on a quantum computer than on the world’s best supercomputers,” wrote Gambetta.

In the run-up to the Condor, IBM plans to release the 127-qubit Eagle chip in 2021. With the Eagle processor, IBM will also introduce “concurrent real-time classical compute capabilities.” These are expected to allow “execution of a broader family of quantum circuits and codes.”

Next milestone in IBM’s quantum computing journey is the 433-qubit Osprey processor in 2022 which will attempt to pack in more performance in a smaller chip.

To climb through this ladder of quantum processors, IBM is also working on a key enabler – a behemoth of a dilution refrigerator nicknamed larger than any commercially available today.

This 10-foot-tall and 6-foot-wide ‘super-fridge’ is expected to effectively cool and isolate the large and complex devices such as the Condor and its succeeding generations right up to the million-qubit system.

IBM ultimately expects that these dilution refrigerators can be linked together via quantum interconnections, quite like the way that the intranet links supercomputing processors, to build a massive parallel quantum computer.

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