Although we have to wait a while for Walmart to stock quantum computers, a taste of ‘qubit’ computing power is available, courtesy IBM. A five qubit machine on a single cryogenic chip installed at the TJ Watson Research Center in New York, recently went online and is open for scientists to use, at the discretion of IBM, of course. Essentially a cloud-enabled platform, IBM Quantum Experience will allow users to run algorithms and experiments, work with the individual quantum bits, and explore tutorials and simulations around what might be possible with quantum computing.

The quantum processor is composed of five superconducting qubits in an architecture that can scale to larger quantum systems. IBM claims it is the leading approach towards building a universal quantum computer, able perform any computing task and being exponentially faster than classical computers for a number of important applications for science and business.
A universal quantum computer does not exist today, but IBM envisions medium-sized quantum processors of 50-100 qubits to be possible in the next decade. With a quantum computer built of just 50 qubits, none of today’s TOP500 supercomputers could successfully emulate it, reflecting the tremendous potential of this technology.

“Lest we forget” the hardware side of things, quantum information is very fragile and needs to be protected from any errors that can result from heat and electromagnetic radiation. Signals are sent in and out of a cryogenic dilution refrigerator to measure operations on the quantum processor.