IBM Eagle Processor Is First To Soar Past 100 Qubits For Quantum Computing Dominance
Quantum computing might be our path to real science-fiction computing power, and it's been making grand strides in the last couple of years. About two years ago, Google announced that it had achieved "quantum supremacy," which means that its quantum computers were able to perform specific tasks much faster than traditional computers. That achievement was accomplished using "Sycamore," a quantum computer with 53 qubits.
Last year, IBM unveiled its cutting-edge quantum processor known as "Hummingbird," packing 65 qubits into a single chip. That processor was an improvement on the 27-qubit "Falcon" chip that preceded it the year before, but IBM didn't rest on its laurels: yesterday, the company revealed "Eagle," a new chip that encompasses 127 qubits.
A qubit, for those unfamiliar, is a "quantum bit." Quantum computers are fundamentally similar to regular computers in that you put in data in the form of bits and the computer massages it into other data in the form of bits. The key difference is that qubits can have more states than just 0 or 1. That gives these machines enormous power to divine solutions to problems that regular computers would need much more time to solve—sometimes on the order of millions or billions of times the effort.
IBM says that Eagle is the "first quantum processor whose scale makes it impossible for a classical computer to reliably simulate." Indeed, according to IBM, simulating all of the possible states of all 127 cubits would require more classical bits than "the total number of atoms in the entire world's population." Quantity of qubits isn't the only metric that determines a quantum computer's performance, but it helps the system handle denser and more complicated problems.
The company formerly known as Big Blue has a blog post where you can read all the sticky technical details, if you'd like, but the "too long; didn't read" summary is that IBM combined expertise in 3D packaging from its conventional microprocessor R&D with per-qubit readout multiplexing and a particular hexagonally-tessellated layout to achieve this sort of qubit density. IBM isn't stopping there, either; the company plans to roll out a 433-qubit design called "Osprey" next year, and then an 1121-qubit chip called "Condor" the year after that.
All of that means that the catastrophic collapse of cryptography that we recently wrote about may happen faster than anyone expected. Let's hope those groups working on the anti-quantum crypto stuff get it worked out sooner than later.