IBM says its new quantum chip cannot be simulated with classic supercomputers

IBM claims to have taken a big step toward practical quantum computing. On Monday, the company unveiled the Eagle, a 127-qubit quantum processor. IBM claims that this is the first such processor that cannot be simulated with a classic supercomputer. To understand what that means, the company says you would need more classical bits to simulate an Eagle than there are atoms in every human being on the planet. IBM attributes progress to a new design that places processor control components on multiple physical levels while qubits are located on a single layer. It is a design that the company says allows for a significant increase in computing power.

One aspect of Eagle that the company is not currently talking about is quantum volume. Invented by IBM, it is a metric that tries to measure the performance of a quantum computer by taking a holistic view of its various parts. Not only does it take into account the qubits, but also the way they interact. The larger the quantum volume, the more capable a quantum computer is able to solve difficult problems.


“Our first 127-cubic-meter Eagle processor is available as a research system on IBM Cloud to select members of the IBM Quantum Network,” Jerry Chow, director of IBM’s quantum hardware development unit, told Engadget. “Research systems are an early access to our latest technologies and therefore do not guarantee uptime or a certain level of reproducible performance, measured by quantum volume.”

Without knowing the quantum volume of the Eagle processor, it is difficult to say exactly what it is compared to what already exists. Last October, Honeywell claimed that its H1 system model has a quantum volume of 128 with only 10 connected qubits. For reference, earlier this year IBM announced a 27-qubit system with the industry’s then-leading quantum volume of 64. Clearly, the company’s new processor is powerful, but the qubits here don’t tell the whole story.

What has also been noted at Eagle is that IBM does not claim quantum supremacy. According to the company, it is a step towards that turning point, but the processor is not yet at the point where it can solve problems that classic computers cannot. Google caused controversy in 2019 when it (briefly) stated that it had accomplished that feat with its Sycamore system. At the time, IBM called the company’s claims “indefensible” based on the fact that Google made a computer to solve one specific equation.

IBM will make Eagle available to select members of its Quantum Network from next month.

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Naveen Kumar

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