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IBM’s new Q division to commercialize quantum computing

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NEW YORK—The era of computers that can unlock the secrets of nature and chemistry is coming closer to reality.

On Monday, IBM announced a new division called IBM Q, which aims to commercialize the first universal “quantum computers” for business and science.

Researchers have been engaged in this complex field for decades. The way IBM explains it, quantum computing is based on the laws of quantum mechanics, a branch of physics that explores how the physical world fundamentally works.

If it lives up to its promise, quantum computers could yield breakthroughs in medicine, financial services, supply chain logistics, artificial intelligence and cloud security, IBM says.

“Classical computers are extraordinarily powerful and will continue to advance and underpin everything we do in business and society. But there are many problems that will never be penetrated by a classical computer. To create knowledge from much greater depths of complexity, we need a quantum computer,” said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems, in a press release.

“We envision IBM Q systems working in concert with our portfolio of classical high-performance systems to address problems that are currently unsolvable, but hold tremendous untapped value,” he said.

While technologies like artificial intelligence can find patterns buried in vast amounts of existing data, quantum computers promise to find solutions to important problems where such patterns cannot be seen and are too vast in scope to be processed by today’s conventional computers. According to IBM, the number of quantum states even in a simple molecule like caffeine can be “astoundingly large.”

IBM also announced Monday the release of an API (application program interface) that lets developers and programmers, even those lacking a deep background in quantum physics, build interfaces that operate between quantum computers running at speeds of five quantum bits (qubits) and the more conventional computers in use today.

Big Blue also upgraded a simulator that can model circuits with up to 20 qubits and hopes to produce commercial quantum bit computers capable of 50 qubits within the next few years. IBM is also releasing a software kit for developers during the first half of 2017.

In May, IBM Research launched a cloud-enabled platform called the IBM Quantum Experience, available to anyone with the capability to run experiments on it. Since then, the company says that 40,000 users have run over 275,000 experiments.

IBM is by no means the only company working on quantum computing. For example, a Canada’s D-Wave Systems has developed a computer that Google and NASA have tested.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter

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