Quantum computers are still in their embryonic phase, but many initiatives are underway that aim to spread this technology simply. While they are incredibly complex—far more so than standard computers—some software resources can help people learn how to experiment with and program the structure of quantum computers.
Quantum computing machines work with quantum mechanics, which are a bit too detailed to get into right now. In essence, they use complex laws of nature to process information holistically. Even further, programming is no longer done with standard bits, but rather qubits that can appear in various conditions. Qubits can also influence each other, even if they are not physically connected, and they can remain in their quantum state for no more than a blink of an eye. Even with all of this in tow, learning this programming requires special software, and only a small circle of developers is currently able to do so.
This is a lot to say that the barriers to entry into the quantum computing industry are vast. But, in spite of this, Google is simplifying this process with new software tools.
The Benefits of Quantum Computers
Quantum computers are particularly suitable for all questions that require an enormous computational capacity—to find the solution of unresolved mathematical problems, to strengthen artificial intelligence, and to carry out simulations of chemical and physical processes with unprecedented detail, all of which can reveal new, useful information. Quantum computers can also be a game-changer when it comes to data security. A high-speed quantum internet will be able to keep data safe.
With so many pros to this form of computing, many companies aim to build a robust quantum computing ecosystem that also includes open-source software tools, applications for short-term systems, and educational materials for the quantum community.
To increase this ecosystem of quantum researchers and the development of these software applications, various open-source software development kits have been launched for the programming and use of quantum computers. Soon, we will see many simple applications for these seemingly alien quantum computers, a bit like we do today with computers (see figure 1).
Introduction to Quantum Computing
The miniaturisation of components stopped at the threshold of quantum mechanics, making it impossible to further increase the density of transistors and reduce the size of integrated circuits. In all this, quantum mechanics has been transformed into an electronic reality, creating computers that can significantly increase performance.
The quantum computer will revolutionise the industry, representing a new industrial revolution to address complex problems of calculation, which would take billions of years for a typical computer to solve.
As we previously discussed, the basis of quantum computers lies in qubits, which are digital base units that can take different values simultaneously, thus storing more data and processing them much faster than a typical computer. These qubits rely on the quantum property of the superposition of states. They are able to perform many calculations, which exponentially accelerates in proportion to the machine’s qubits. The spin of a particle, for example, has two states that can encode binary information. Quantum mechanics is particularly attractive for calculation purposes due to this overlap of states, which greatly amplifies the possibilities of encoding information. This allows users to face extremely complex problems.
The same number of qubits will have incredibly higher computing power compared to a corresponding number of bits. Because of this, these machines need different software and programming languages than typical machines, and there are few competent developers in this field.
Leading computing companies such as Google and Microsoft are investing in this field, whether in private labs or university research facilities, which is a very positive sign for those hoping to make use of this technology in the long run.
Google is researching a wide range of solutions that can deal with quantum computers. Although some of this software might already exist in open-source initiatives that allow developers to create code, Google’s way is significant for the development of powerful quantum processors such as the Bristlecone chip, which holds the record for the highest number of qubits (72).
Google hopes that Bristlecone will provide engineers with a testing solution to detect system error rates and the scalability of qubit technology, as well as with quantum simulation, optimisation and machine learning applications. To simplify the programming and use of quantum computers, Google has released a powerful tool that will allow developers to create algorithms without the need for experience in quantum physics: Cirq.
Cirq is nothing more than an open-source framework for computers that use NISQ (noisy intermediate-scale quantum, 50-100 qubits) algorithms. Google says Cirq should simplify the management operations for the programming of quantum computers. Google programmers compare it to the famous open-source program TensorFlow, which is used for deep learning. Through Cirq, it is possible to implement quantum algorithms performed on simulators. The goal is to build software that will be implemented on a wide range of quantum machines shortly.
As part of this new tool, Google has also released OpenFermion, which is a software kit for programming algorithms that simulate molecules and material properties. This tool aims to confirm how chemistry is one of the very first applications of the quantum computers. There have been many partners collaborating with Google, notably Zapata Computing and Quantum Benchmark.
Google’s initiative will give a strong push for quantum software technology, but above all, it will promote a more dynamic developer community at the same level as Arduino. It will foster interest and greater accessibility to quantum computers, many of which reside (only) in academic laboratories. This is a huge win for those interested in the field.
Many companies, such as IBM and Rigetti Computing, have made their machines available for various experiments. Moreover, Google should follow suit by making the Bristlecone processor available soon via cloud computing so that developers can use Cirq to write programs for it (see figure 3).
The availability of a universal quantum computer can have a fundamental impact on a large number of research fields—and society as a whole. An increasingly large scientific and industrial community is working toward the realisation of such a device that can be better built by using a modular approach—based on software tools—for easy management and programming. Google’s actions, if they play their cards right, are an enormous step in the right direction.