All jokes aside, yes, you can buy a quantum computer. Although it’s probably not what you expect, you won’t find one you can carry around. But there are publicly available quantum computers that you can buy. However, they typically only have a couple of qubits, which limits their utility beyond teaching, and the price is still way more than a super high-powered gaming machine equivalent.
What is a Quantum Computer?
A quantum computer is a type of computational machine that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to process information. Unlike classical computers that use bits, quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits. While a classical bit can represent a 0 or a 1, a qubit can represent a state representing 0, 1, or any quantum superposition of these states. The process of interference and superposition is used to effectively compute some quantum algorithms faster than a classical machine.
Quantum computers have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of chemical reactions, enabling the discovery of new materials and drugs. For instance, Google’s Sycamore processor was used to simulate a chemical reaction, providing insights that would be nearly impossible using classical machines alone. Like the D-Wave system, Quantum annealers are designed to solve complex optimization problems. These can range from logistics (finding the most efficient route for delivery trucks) to finance (portfolio optimization).
Shor’s algorithm on a sufficiently powerful quantum computer could potentially break many of today’s cryptographic systems. This has spurred interest in post-quantum cryptography, which seeks to develop cryptographic methods that remain secure even in the presence of a quantum computer.
Quantum computers might provide faster ways to train machine learning models, especially as datasets become more complex. In conclusion, while quantum computing is still in its infancy and faces many technical challenges, the potential applications are vast. They can impact multiple fields, from medicine to finance to artificial intelligence.
Qubits, or quantum bits, form the foundational units of quantum computation and come in various types, each with unique physical implementation and properties. Superconducting qubits harness Josephson junctions to create and manipulate quantum states, while trapped ions utilize individual ions held in electromagnetic traps. Photonic qubits leverage the quantum properties of photons, and topological qubits are based on anyons—quasi-particles that exist in two-dimensional systems—whose braiding operations can serve as quantum gates. Spin qubits employ the spin state of an electron in a quantum dot as the computational unit. Each of these qubit types has its advantages, challenges, and specific application areas.
How to buy a quantum computer?
D-Wave was the first company to sell quantum computers. They typically sold the room-sized machines to various industries and sectors such as defence. A price list we’ve not seen (so far), but its safe to say these machines cost in the order of millions and were bought by well-funded companies such as Lockheed Martin. These quantum computers performed quantum annealing, which is a form of annealing. But typically, those who buy quantum machines need to do so because of security concerns so they want to keep all the data and information in-house and not rely on quantum cloud services.
The reasons quantum computers are bought is usually one of security or teaching. As the cost of hardware is high, there has to be sufficient reasons to invest in hardware and the software to run quantum circuits on your quantum device. There are a few machines out there bought mainly for research, and as the field is so developing, it’s not like users can play games on quantum computers.
A Quantum Machine for the home?
Not quite yet. Well, you can, but many would question whether there is any point. If you wanted to, you could buy a machine such as a D-Wave, but why would you want to! You’d need a specialist application and likely a few million pounds. But you could buy a desktop machine from SpinQ, which has just qubits. Again, you could not do much with a two-qubit quantum computer, but you could use it to explore.
Exploring quantum computing can easily be done with no quantum machine. You don’t need a quantum device; you need to simulate one. Pick the IBM quantum experience; simply log in from your computer. You don’t need the quantum hardware; software can do a great job of simulating a quantum circuit before you ever need to run on actual quantum hardware.
However, if you are keen to get your hands on a machine, there are a few options. Buy one, rent one or build one.
Building a Quantum Computer
If you have the skills, you could build your machine. You’ll likely need a few scientists with quantum experience, a laboratory and a vast array of machines, tools, and techniques. There isn’t one type of technology that scientists are exploring. There are ion-trap machines, superconducting, and even photonic amounts, the popular approaches that researchers are taking. You’ll also need deep pockets, likely ranging into the multi-million dollars, to buy the equipment, space and skills.
Buying a Quantum Computer
There isn’t a lot of choice. There are no off-the-shelf quantum computers other than D-wave and SpinQ. Maybe one of the large providers, such as IBM, will sell a research machine, but we don’t think they are expressly for sale. Companies like Google also research quantum machines and have their own devices, but these don’t appear for sale. But they could be. Again, you’d likely need to part with many millions of dollars, and you’d need a team to run it. Then, you might need to cool the device using a refrigerator or cryogenic service.
Renting a Quantum Computing
QCaaS (Quantum Computing as a Service) or quantum computing as a service is by far and away the most usual way that people interact with quantum computers. Via the cloud, just as cloud computing has allowed massive computing at scale without owning hardware, the quantum cloud enables researchers to create circuits on remote hardware from almost anywhere on the planet. All you need in most cases is just a browser such as Chrome and internet access. You can also use the services to build your circuits and run experiments, and what’s more, you don’t always need to run on quantum hardware. You can run on a quantum circuit simulator.
There are cloud providers ranging from full-stack quantum companies to AWS Braket from Amazon.
IBM Quantum Experience
IBM was one of the pioneers in offering quantum computing services through the cloud. With the IBM Quantum Experience, users can access IBM’s quantum processors and simulators, run experiments, and even work on building quantum applications. The platform is designed for both beginners with no quantum experience and advanced users, providing a comprehensive suite of tools and resources to facilitate learning and research.
Amazon Braket is Amazon Web Services (AWS) fully managed quantum computing service that enables researchers and developers to explore, test, and build quantum algorithms. The platform provides a unified development experience and allows users to design quantum algorithms, test them on simulated quantum computers, and run them on different quantum hardware architectures.
Microsoft Azure Quantum
Microsoft’s Azure Quantum service is a comprehensive offering that combines quantum programming, simulators, and access to quantum hardware. Partnering with several leading quantum hardware providers, Azure Quantum offers users the flexibility to choose the quantum solutions that best meet their needs. The platform also integrates with Microsoft’s Quantum Development Kit, making it easier for developers to create and test quantum solutions.
Google Quantum Computing Service
While Google has been at the forefront of quantum computing research, especially with its announcement of quantum supremacy in 2019, its formal QCaaS offerings have gradually developed. However, Google has been providing select partners and researchers with access to its quantum processors, aiming to refine and expand its quantum cloud services in the future.
D-Wave Systems, a leader in quantum annealing technology, offers D-Wave Leap, a cloud-based platform that allows users to access its quantum annealers. Quantum annealing is a specific kind of quantum computing suited for optimization problems. With Leap, developers, businesses, and researchers can build and run quantum applications, learn about quantum computing, and even collaborate on open-source quantum projects.
Rigetti Quantum Cloud Services
Rigetti Computing, a startup specializing in the fabrication of superconducting quantum processors, offers Quantum Cloud Services (QCS). QCS allows users to develop and run quantum algorithms on hybrid quantum-classical systems. The platform integrates Rigetti’s quantum processors with classical computing resources, optimizing the performance of hybrid algorithms.
You can buy a quantum computer, but we might question why you’d ever want to. Your options are fairly limited, and it doesn’t make much sense unless you want a machine for teaching purposes. Just as you might not want to spend several million pounds on a computing cluster, buying or building your device makes little sense unless you have a new idea for building qubits.