IBM recently announced updates to Qiskit Runtime, its containerized quantum computing service and programming model. Users can optimize workloads and run them efficiently on large-scale quantum systems with the service. Qiskit Runtime also makes it easier for non-physicists to interface and experiment with quantum computers by deploying complete programs rather than circuits. The new updates help simplify quantum computing even further and should save developers many hours of detailed programming, freeing them up for more interesting and creative work.
Qiskit Runtime is equipped with two new primitives as part of its service. Primitives are pre-built programs that facilitate the creation of classical quantum workloads needed to build and customize applications.
IBM has also added a much-needed third consumer pricing option for access to the IBM cloud service and its 27-qubit Falcon processors. The cost of the new pricing option is $1.60 for every second of using Qiskit Runtime. This makes it an ideal plan with manageable costs for startups, small businesses, and lightly funded college programs.
New Qiskit Runtime updates, new pricing options, and added primitives create significant competitive advantages for IBM.
Qiskit Execution Innovation
Prior to developing Qiskit Runtime, IBM’s early quantum research focused on increasing the speed of execution of quantum circuits and quantum operational sequences. Speed was, and still is, important to quantum computing for several reasons:
- The quantum states of qubits deteriorate rapidly, which means that quantum operations must be initiated and completed before the quantum state collapses.
- Qubits are fragile and subject to errors caused by environmental factors such as noise, wiring, other qubits, and galactic radiation. Research on quantum error correction points to promising methods that could potentially be exploited for low-error quantum computing. However, a fully fault-tolerant quantum computer is probably at least five to seven years away.
- Most algorithms require the interaction of quantum and classical computers. It is not uncommon for some applications to have millions of looping interactions between the two processors that create latency with each successive computing loop.
In addition to its early research into circuit speed, IBM researchers also recognized the benefits of accelerating the execution of entire quantum programs. In early 2021, IBM introduced Qiskit Runtime to meet this need.
Qiskit Runtime has established two new quantum computing paradigms:
- It was the first application to use containers in the quantum cloud to increase programming efficiency and speed. Containers are executable software packages that make applications more portable by transporting application code and necessary libraries and dependencies.
- IBM changed its infrastructure and architecture to collocate quantum and classical computers to reduce hybrid computing latency for algorithms
Without automation, setting up an algorithm and running it is a long and complicated process. The developer must first determine which error mitigation, classical and quantum algorithms will be used before the problem is redesigned to fit the quantum computer. It is then necessary to decide how many times the program should be executed (strokes) and how to interpret the results within the appropriate expectations. If this process is to be pursued as a hybrid classical-quantum solution, recurrent full-loop computations are required on the classical computer so that it can utilize the data from the quantum computer.
IBM has greatly simplified this process. In the Qiskit Runtime environment, the IBM hybrid cloud handles much of the work using its software architecture and containers.
Qiskit Runtime’s first two primitives – Sampler and Estimator – optimize the way code is sent to a quantum computer. By sampling quantum circuits, Sampler generates outputs that help determine a solution to the calculation. Estimator is a program interface that estimates expected values of quantum operators so that users can calculate and interpret the expected values of quantum operators needed for many algorithms.
Classical computers are deterministic and provide precise answers. On the other hand, quantum computers are probabilistic and provide non-classical probability distributions which, depending on the number of executions of the program, give a good idea of the answer. Since almost all quantum algorithms use probability distributions, Sampler and Estimator are likely to have broad applicability across the spectrum of quantum algorithms.
Qiskit Runtime improvements have created a 100x speedup in iterative circuit execution workloads. Depending on the problem, calculations that used to take a month can now be solved in days or hours by Qiskit Runtime. But as good as it sounds, according to IBM, Qiskit Runtime will eventually be able to run 200,000 times faster than it does now.
1. To eliminate confusion, Qiskit itself is a hardware-independent software development kit that simplifies the ability to build, compile, run, and analyze quantum circuits and quantum programs. Qiskit makes it easy to control the interaction between quantum software and quantum hardware.
2. According to IBM, three major factors affect the performance of a quantum computer: quality, speed, and scale. IBM uses a holistic measurement called quantum volume to determine and improve circuit quality. It measures scale by the number of qubits. IBM’s roadmap shows that qubits are changing significantly every year going forward. By the end of 2022, IBM plans to replace its current 127-qubit Eagle processor with a 433-qubit processor. In 2023, IBM plans to replace it with a newer quantum computer with over 1000 qubits. IBM’s ultimate goal is to deliver a fault-tolerant quantum computer with over a million qubits beyond 2026.
3. By 2023, IBM plans to offer groups of predefined runtimes tailored to specific domains and callable from a cloud-based API.
4. Qiskit Runtime finally puts frictionless quantum computing on the horizon, making IBM’s projection of 2025 achievable.
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