Algorithmic Warfare: New Chip Makes Quantum Leap in Processing Power (Updated)
433-qubit IBM Osprey chip
NEW YORK, New York — As the world grapples with how to take advantage of emerging quantum computing technologies, IBM recently debuted its most advanced quantum processor ever — and broke its own world record in the process.
Unveiled at the annual IBM Quantum Summit in New York, the Osprey quantum processor has more than three times the processing power of the previous model. While the advancements in quantum are expected to impact all industries, the technology could have unique implications for how nations defend themselves, researchers said at the recent summit.
Quantum computers utilize basic units known as qubits as opposed to the 1s and 0s used by traditional computers. The computing power stems from the potential for each qubit to be both 1 and 0 simultaneously, rather than being restricted to one or the other.
At 433 qubits, IBM’s Osprey is the world’s most powerful quantum processor, surpassing the former largest system in the world, IBM’s 127-qubit Eagle.
“We’re living in a moment where computing with a capital C, as I like to call it, is going through one of the most exciting moments since the advent of digital computers in the 1940s,” said Dario Gil, senior vice president and director of IBM research.
“It is an undeniable amount of technical progress that is occurring, and the rate of pace is only accelerating,” he said during the summit.
Creating larger quantum processors increases the ability for the computer to solve complex problems. But stringing together more qubits creates more “noise,” a term meaning interference with the state of the bits in the processor that affects the outcome of the calculations run by it.
As the number of qubits without error increases, the closer the quantum computer gets to reaching its full potential. In addition to error issues, current quantum computers are prohibitively large and researchers are continuing to work on increasing processing power while reducing size.
Some of the progress for quantum computing comes from new IBM-developed hardware, including new wiring that helps control temperature, said Jerry Chow, manager of the Experimental Quantum computing division at IBM.
This new hardware will enable the next scale-up of the quantum processors in the next few years, he said. IBM’s Condor at 1,121 qubits is expected to be unveiled next year, and its Flamingo the following year with 1,386 qubits.
Even though quantum computing has not reached its fullest potential, it still has national security implications today.
For example, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is using IBM’s quantum computing software Qiskit, said Travis Campbell, director of the Quantum Computing Institute at the lab. The lab oversees national security science areas, such as nuclear nonproliferation and cyber resilience and intelligence, and runs more than 1 million executions per month on the system.
“Quantum computing is one of those emerging technologies where we see an enormous value whether it comes down to doing calculations of chemistry, material science, modeling, new types of catalyst or developing new types of superconductors,” he said during the summit.
Additionally, as quantum technology progresses, new threats to national security could arise, said Ray Harishankar, Quantum Safe lead and a fellow at IBM.
Most encryption relies on complicated algorithms. The encryption is safe because it would take hackers too long to guess the key using a traditional computer. But if a hacker leverages the processing power of quantum, it renders the key much easier to understand, bypassing the encryption and gaining access to protected communications.
Several companies, including IBM, are developing encryption that will protect sensitive information from adversaries who may have access to quantum computing in the future, Harishankar said.
While he noted that organizations like the World Economic Forum and National Security Administration foresee a “danger zone” for quantum-enabled decryption of classical data in the early 2030s, he said it can take several years to protect critical infrastructure even with one algorithm.
“You have to figure out that you need to put them into the production line several years in advance. It cannot be thought of today and implemented tomorrow,” he added.
But the technology still has a ways to go before it’s broadly applicable in any field. Corporate quantum researchers crowded and systems into the annual quantum summit were encouraged to be advocates for quantum in their workplaces.
The field is still waiting for the “quantum advantage” moment, Oak Ridge National Lab’s Campbell said.
“It’s coming up with that demonstration that we can use quantum computing to advance scientific discovery or innovation or whatever your personal goals are,” he said. “But getting to the point of demonstrating that experimentally, that for us is a clear priority for what’s next.”
IBM thinks it can make that progress by collaborating with partner organizations through its quantum computing network, Gil said. The company’s network has grown to more than 200 partners, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing, according to IBM.
“When you see the energy and the enthusiasm that we all get to witness in the world of quantum, how much appetite there is to learn, to contribute, to shift careers into this new area, you know that we are together on to something really big,” Gil said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified quantum processors as quantum computers.
Topics: Infotech, Emerging Technologies, Cyber