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Everyday science

Everyday science

IBM wants you to use its quantum computer

04 May 2016 Hamish Johnston


By Hamish Johnston

Starting today, members of the public will be able to run programs on IBM’s quantum processor. Users can access the device – which comprises five superconducting quantum bits (qubits) – via the US-based company’s “IBM Quantum Experience” website.

Described as a “cloud-enabled quantum computing platform”, IBM says that users will be able to run algorithms and experiments on IBM’s quantum processor, manipulate individual qubits, as well as access quantum-computing tutorials and simulations.

In the above video, IBM scientists including theoretical physicist Jay Gambetta explain why it is important to let the general public loose on their quantum computer. Gambetta hopes that letting lots of different people use the system will build up a collective intuition for doing quantum computing – something that is lacking at the moment because things that happen in the quantum world will often defy our classical experience of reality.

This all sounds great, but what actually happens when you try to have a go? The first step is to provide IBM with a few details about who you are and why you want to use a quantum computer. I said I was a science journalist with a college-level understanding of quantum mechanics and I wanted to use IBM’s system to learn more about quantum computers.

Now, I have to wait for an invitation to use the system, which IBM says will be coming “soon”. While I would love to have access to the quantum processor, reading between the lines of IBM’s press release suggests that only quantum-computing experts – or “anyone with the skills” – need apply. But I live in hope.


In the meantime, I think I will watch the above video. It explains how to implement Grover’s quantum search algorithm on a five-qubit system with the same graphical user interface that is used by the IBM Quantum Experience. Once you master it you will be a dab hand at card tricks.

If I do get an invitation from IBM, I will have a play around the system and report back. And if you have been let loose on the IBM Quantum Experience, please let us know how it went.

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