In the past week, two new quantum computers have been launched, each claiming to be the most powerful quantum computer to date. D-Wave, the quantum computing heavyweight, made the Advantage quantum system available over the cloud on September 29, 2020. D-Wave calls the Advantage “the first quantum computer built for business” and claims that while other quantum computers were merely prototypes, the Advantage is the first with real commercial value. While D-Wave boasts about their system’s 5000 qubits, comparing it to IBM’s quantum computers, which have around 50 qubits, is comparing apples to oranges. Different kinds of quantum computers are effective at different kinds of tasks, so it makes more sense to compare D-Wave’s current offering to their previous best, the 2000Q system. What we can say is that the Advantage has over twice the qubit count of the 2000Q system.
To prove the point that it’s not the number of qubits that matters, IonQ’s new ion-trap quantum computer, ready October 1, 2020, has only 32 qubits (their previous had only 11). Rather than solving the qubit error problem with quantity, IonQ has chosen the quality approach. The high-fidelity of ion-trap qubits means that less is more—by some metrics IonQ’s offering is the most powerful quantum computer in the world. IonQ’s CEO, Peter Chapman, explains, “At 32 qubits, if you had a fidelity of 99.5, you’d normally have a quantum volume of just about 1000. As you get to 99.9, suddenly you get up to about 4 million. Fidelity is really the key.”
The point is not to compare IonQ’s technology with D-Wave’s to determine who really has the most powerful quantum computer. The real news is that the next generation of quantum computers is arriving, and they are over twice as powerful as the previous generation. The technology is still in its infancy, but it is developing fast and already quantum computers are powerful enough for commercial use. Just as computing led to the growth of multibillion-dollar companies, so too might quantum computing.
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Quantum computing is the use of quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform computation.