IBM predicts ‘quantum advantage’ will overtake standard chips within two years

The storied semiconductor company said that its ‘Eagle’ computing chip has 127 so-called ‘qubits’, which can represent information in quantum form. Classical computers work using ‘bits’ that must be either a 1 or 0, whilst qubits can be both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously.

That fact could one day make quantum computers much faster than their classical counterparts. However, qubits are exceedingly hard to build and require huge cryogenic refrigerators to operate correctly. While Apple’s newest M1 Max chip has 57 billion transistors – a rough proxy for bits – IBM says that its new Eagle chip is the first to have more than 100 qubits.

IBM said that new techniques it learned in building the chip – which is manufactured at its facilities in New York state – will eventually produce more qubits when combined with other advances in the quantum computer’s refrigeration and control systems. Continuing with the ‘large flying bird’ naming convention, the company said that it plans an ‘Osprey’ chip in 2022 with 433 qubits and a ‘Condor’ chip 1,121 qubits.

At that point, the company says it will be close to the stage known as “quantum advantage” – the moment at which quantum computers can beat classical computers.

However, Darío Gil, senior vice president at IBM, said that this will not mean quantum computers immediately overtaking traditional computers. Instead, IBM envisions a world where some parts of a computing application run on traditional chips and some parts run on quantum chips, depending on what works best for each task.

“We believe that we will be able to reach a demonstration of quantum advantage – something that can have practical value – within the next couple of years. That is our quest,” Gil added.

Quantum computing is a key area of competitive research for computing companies and chipmakers.

In October, Toshiba Europe Ltd announced that it had developed the world’s first chip-based quantum key distribution (QKD) system, enabling the mass manufacture of quantum security technology. The company had previously announced that it had built the world’s first quantum-secured commercial metro network.

Earlier this month, a Sydney-based start-up released the results of its algorithmic benchmarking experiments, which demonstrated massively improved performance of quantum computers when an error suppression technique is applied.