Half a decade from now, quantum computing will be an essential element of any computer engineering degree, IBM researchers are today predicting. Rather than a technology shrouded in mystery, it will be fundamentally understood and a practical tool in use solving problems in many disciplines and industries.
“We’re doing a lot with quantum computers,” Welser says. “We have a 15 qubit system on the cloud which anyone can go and use and we’re seeing a lot of interesting things.
There’s over 100,000 hits on it now which are people going and writing programs on it.
“But it’s still a toy at the moment – a researcher’s playground. I think that in the next five years we will have systems that are both large enough and have low enough error rates that we will see some really interesting things that have real value.
“The most likely area is things like quantum chemistry – simulations of things like molecules or chemical bonds.
“Right now we use very large high-performance computing systems but even with those, once we go beyond simulating a few molecules or atoms it becomes very difficult because there are too many variables. And of course, as we are working at the sub-atomic level those are quantum variables. They can be simulated very directly with a quantum computer.”
An understanding of quantum computing will be essential for those looking for careers in any scientific field, and students will leave university with hands-on experience of running practical experiments on quantum powered machines. And just as most engineers or scientists could today outline what is meant by the computing term “bit”, in five years’ time, the term “qubit” will be widely understood.