IBM made several smaller announcements in the past week that show continued expansion of their quantum computing efforts.  These include additional machines, a new optimization module, a special advanced access program for academic researchers, receipt of five thousand pre-registrations to their Qiskit Summer School and a published paper on Quantum advantage with noisy shallow circuits.

Eight Machines with a Quantum Volume (QV) of 32 Bringing the Total Fleet Up to 22 Now Online
IBM has added to their fleet of quantum machines and now have 22 machines publicly available.  (up from 18 previously). This total includes 8 machines with a quantum volume of 32.  These include three machines with 27 qubits, four machines with 5 qubits and one with 20 qubits.  The improvements were achieved via improvements in their hardware design and a new “target rotary” pulsing technique to reduce unitary and spectator errors as described in this blog article on the IBM web site and this technical paper on arXiv. 

Diagram Showing the Topologies of IBM’s Eight QV32 Machines, Credit: IBM

New Optimization Module
One of IBM’s goals in quantum computing is to make the systems easier to program by end users so that users can get solutions to their problems without knowing the intricacies of the quantum computers and how they work. They have taken a step in this direction by introducing the new optimization module which enables easy, efficient modeling of optimization problems using DOcplex – IBM Decision Optimization CPLEX modeling. DOcplex is a Python-based optimization package that IBM previously released for classical computing and with the new optimization module in Qiskit, users who were previously familiar with the classical version of DOcplex can take advantage of quantum computing using the same interface.

Additional information on this Qiskit Optimization module can be seen in this blog post and this page of optimization tutorials on the IBM and Qiskit web sites.

Advanced System Access for Academic Researchers
To encourage quantum researcher using their tools, IBM has created the IBM Quantum Researchers Program to help members of the quantum information science community get research done faster, with access to more systems and larger share of the fair-share queue. Researchers must be accepted into the program, but those who are provided with free access to a number of IBM’s 5-qubit quantum computers.

The access includes special privileges including a priority mode queueing which allows a researchers to reserve specific times on the machine and jump to the head of the queue.

Diagram of Priority Mode Queueing for Researchers, Credit: IBM

Researchers will also have access to pulse-level control using a Qiskit module called OpenPulse on the 5-qubit machines to program them down at the pulse level, instead of the gate, level.  Normally users who want to experiment with pulse level control are restricted to using a one qubit machine that IBM has made available for this purpose. Although it is not easy to program a quantum computer down at the pulse level instead of the gate level, it can potentially allow one to achieve better results by allowing one to better calibrate the qubits and directly control the implementation of gates and measurements.

IBM has posted another blog article about the Advanced System Access to Academic Researchers program on their web site which explains it in more detail and you can find it here.

Five Thousand Pre-Registrations to Attend IBM’s Qiskit Summer School
We previously reported that IBM would be holding a two week online Qiskit Summer School from July 20-31 and provided a link where interested parties could apply. Each day of the Qiskit Global Summer School consists of 3 hours of lectures followed by an hour-long hands-on programming lab where students implement quantum programs in Qiskit. We were amazed to find out that 5,000 people have pre-registered for this event and requested invitations to attend. IBM has indicated they will send invitations to all the people who have pre-registered but we expect not everyone will ultimately be able to attend.  One challenge is that the session are being held from 9 AM to 2 PM, U.S. Eastern Daylight Time so some people may face issues if they are located in a different time zone.  Still, this response certainly indicates a high level of interest in quantum programming.

Quantum Advantage with Noisy Shallow Circuits
One of the areas of contention amongst quantum researchers is whether we will be able to do anything commercially relevant with NISQ era quantum computers.  Some argue that we will really need to wait until fully error-corrected quantum computers with are large number of qubits will be needed to really achieve quantum advantage.

To explore this question scientists at IBM, the University of Waterloo, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Technology Sydney have shown a theoretical example of a Mermin-Peres Magic Square game where a quantum computer could solve this even on a noisy quantum computer in a constant time independent of the problem size.  In contrast, a classical computer would have a runtime in that grow logarithmically with the problem size.  So at some point, the quantum computer will be more efficient at the larger problem size.

Although the Mermin-Peres Magic Square game is a problem that does not have any known commercial value like the Google Quantum Supremacy experiment, it does provide some additional hints that NISQ era quantum computers may show commercial relevance for other problems and achieve Quantum Advantage in the future.

For more information about this research, you can read the blog article describing it on the IBM web site and access the full paper in Nature Physics. (Note: The Nature Physics site provides an abstract of the paper but does have a paywall to access the full paper).

July 11, 2020