(Wired.com) IBM has offered online access to a quantum computer since 2016. Anyone can log in and execute commands on a 5-qubit or 14-qubit machine located in Yorktown Heights, New York. The app, dubbed “The IBM Q Experience,” has already executed more than seven million quantum programs. Legit researchers, many unaffiliated with IBM, have published more than 120 academic papers using it. Sophia Chen shares her recent conversations with IBM representatives and her experience on IBM’s 5-qubit machine in this article. IBM’s app is part of a larger effort to boost literacy in quantum computing. Other companies have also been releasing open-source software packages to reach out to the masses—or more probably, nerds with niche interests.
IBM’s online interface resembles a musical score consisting of five horizontal lines, one line corresponding to each quantum bit, or qubit. IBM’s qubits consist of tiny circuits made of superconducting wire, kept in a refrigerator very close to absolute zero. The circuits can only hold information at low temperatures. Chen points out that to really exploit the computer’s quantum-ness, you have to develop an intuition about how qubits flow in and out of superposition and interact with each other via bizarre properties known as entanglement. “You won’t mess anything up,” IBM physicist James Wootton encouragingly assured her via Skype.