IBM Launches Quantum Programming Challenge

IBM's Q System One quantum computer. Image credit: IBM

Four years after IBM put its first quantum computing resources online, company opens access to those who want to try out the tech and test their skills

IBM said it is launching a quantum computing challenge to mark four years since its first cloud-based quantum computing resources went online on 4 May, 2016.

Quantum computing is expected to revolutionise the way computers work by using building blocks whose functionality draws on quantum effects.

But their principles are fundamentally different from those of classical computers, with quantum qubits, for instance, able to hold multiple states, in contrast to the two possible states of a digital bit.

As a result, many of the companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft that are investing in developing quantum computers are also looking to work with programmers to build their familiarity with quantum computing concepts.

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“Trying to explain quantum computing without resorting to incorrect analogies has always been a goal for our team,” said Jay Gambetta, an IBM fellow and vice president of Quantum Computing at the company.

“As a result, we have continuously invested in education, starting with opening access to quantum computers, and continuing to create tools that enable anyone to program them.”

The IBM Quantum Challenge, running from 4 to 8 May, allows any user to login and make use of IBM’s quantum resources, from writing a basic “Hello Quantum” program to solving a complex optimisation problem.

The challenge is aimed at education and is open to everyone from experienced programmers to those who are simply curious about quantum computers.

Quantum computer programs involve building and running quantum circuits, and Gambetta said users have executed 175 billion quantum circuits on IBM’s hardware since 2016, resulting in more than 200 scientific publications.

Quantum development

For those who want to know more about quantum programming, Gambetta pointed to a chapter in an online textbook that defines quantum circuits.

IBM is also making available a series of free online video materials that cover the basics of programming with Qiskit, an open source framework for programs running on IBM Q Experience, the company’s online quantum platform.

Gambetta said IBM now has 18 quantum systems running on Q Experience, with more than 200,000 users and more than 100 client research partners.

To recognise people’s participation in the project IBM said it would award digital badges and provide additional sponsorship to the Python Software Foundation.

The Qiskit language is written primarily in Python.

“We hope you also have fun as you put your skills to the test,” Gambetta said.

In March IBM said it planned to build Europe’s first quantum computer in Germany, allowing companies to access the experimental technology without needing to send sensitive data across the Atlantic.

IBM said it would build one of its Q System One machines at the state-backed Fraunhofer Institute near Stuttgart from early 2021, with research labs to be set up around it.