Program Lets Users Design Their Own Quantum Computers


This is the first time that most people will be able to “touch” quantum computing.

I did something interesting this weekend that I have never done before. I designed my own quantum computer. And while I doubt that I will actually see my shiny new quantum machine anytime soon, the fact that I was able to design it and confirm that it probably would work as intended is pretty exciting.

It’s all possible because of the new Qiskit Metal program from IBM, which is part of their effort to bring open-source tools to the world of quantum computing. The Qiskit Metal program promises to allow anyone to build their own quantum machine in just a few minutes. For me, it took a lot longer than that. But still, it was a relatively short period of time given the complexity of the machine I ultimately designed.

This new development also moves quantum computers one step closer to the point where they can start to be deployed in government, not just as general-purpose computers, but as highly configurable machines designed for highly specific tasks. This should also enable agencies to find out if a quantum machine might be able to solve tricky problems where traditional computing hardware isn’t up to the task, or would take far too long to find a solution.

I have been covering quantum computing for about a decade now. I’ve written quite a few Nextgov columns about ways that various government agencies could use the technology, and how it could actually be completely transformative in some cases. The federal government is certainly interested in the competitive edge that quantum technology could provide, and support remains high in all branches of government.

But this is the first time that most people will be able to “touch” quantum computing, which is a big deal for a technology that literally exists inside darkened black boxes at almost absolute zero. It’s also a huge step into taking the technology more into the mainstream, and one step closer to a future where quantum is a reality. I have no doubt that both private companies and government agencies that are thinking about quantum computing can use these new tools to quickly pre-test their ideas and designs for viability.

The project has an interesting history. According to IBM, Qiskit Metal was first given to a small group of early access users. Researchers at IBM and a team at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden were the primary beta testers. However, it was also made available at a Qiskit Hackathon event in South Korea to open it up to even more people. Almost everyone who worked with the program was able to design and analyze quantum processors much more quickly than ever before. Their constructive feedback then went into the final product.

Having dived into the software, I can say that it greatly simplifies the concept, design and testing phases of building a quantum machine but it also requires a fair amount of knowledge about how quantum computers work as well as what is possible from an engineering and physics point of view. There is a set of very good tutorials available if you want to brush up on quantum computing or details about how to use Qiskit Metal.

Qiskit is loaded with hundreds of commonly used quantum machine parts, and selecting them from the list is pretty easy assuming you have at least some understanding of how a quantum machine operates. If a specific part you want to use isn’t in the library, Qiskit lets you create it and assign its various properties. With a little bit of skill, you can try and create a quantum machine designed for a specific purpose like deep numbers analysis, code-breaking, predictions or just about any other task that requires extremely high-performance computing.

Designing a quantum machine is pretty fun using the platform. You can use the Python-based API if you are a hardcore programmer or simply use the visual interface to drag and drop various components together. Qiskit is smart enough to use automatic routing algorithms to help all the parts fit together in a logical fashion. 

This is really going to date me, but in the early days of computers, there was this really cool DOS-based educational game/program called Rocky’s Boots that challenged players to design circuits, machines and even simple computers. The interface for Qiskit Metal is eerily similar, but it’s also much more advanced. IBM made a video to show how Qiskit works.

Once you have your system designed, Qiskit can analyze the finished product using advanced quantum analysis techniques. Among other things, the program will run simulations to determine how accurate the new machine will be, as well as how efficiently it’s designed. You can then go back and make changes to try and get better results, or if you are satisfied with your work, the platform will output your design to a file format that can be used to begin the fabrication process.

One of the reasons that there are so few quantum computers operating today is the fact that it takes a very long time to design new models while the technology itself is still being refined. Once a new model moves to the build and testing phase, there are even more delays. At the end of that long tunnel, the new quantum computer may not work or might be horribly inefficient. The Qiskit Metal platform can streamline much of that process and give engineers a pretty good idea about how their new quantum machine will perform long before the expensive and time-consuming build phase. 

By the time a quantum machine designed with Qiskit Metal makes it to the construction phase, many of its flaws should have already been eliminated. That’s why I think this platform will really give a boost to quantum computers. If you want to try your hand at designing the ultimate computing machine, give Qiskit Metal a try and see what you come up with. And you never know, your new design might just change the world.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys