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Quantum computing for beginners

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard about quantum computing. If not, here’s a quick recap: it’s a radically different kind of computing that’s built on the laws of quantum mechanics, and it has enormous potential to enable discoveries of many kinds.

There are problems we believe these systems might solve (e.g. in materials, drug discovery, supply chain and logistics, financial services and artificial intelligence) – and there are many more things that we’ll discover these systems can do just by experimenting with them.

Today, at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, I showed a simple machine learning demo, which I ran live on a real quantum computer in New York, through the cloud. Sure, that problem could just as easily have been solved using a classical algorithm on your laptop. But wouldn’t that have been a lot less exciting?

I continue to be amazed by how much progress has been made in a short time. Just a few years ago, the very thought of this would have been just a dream. Today, it’s still early days for quantum computing. But systems are getting better and better – and relatively soon, we’ll be in uncharted territory, where we can no longer simulate what the systems are doing. From there, it’s just a matter of time until we start solving at least certain kinds of problems better than we can now using today’s classical systems.

Getting to a future where quantum computers break new ground will require the collective talent and contributions of many brilliant people. If you are excited about this too, then get involved. Whether or not you know it, you have something important to contribute.

For two years now, IBM has hosted real quantum hardware and simulators online for free via the IBM Q Experience, along with an increasingly powerful software stack (Quantum Information Software Kit, or Qiskit. Together, these make up the necessary ingredients for discovering what these systems can do. Using the IBM Q Experience and Qiskit, developers at just about any level can start exploring – and writing their own – quantum programs.

Steps for beginner, intermediate, and advanced quantum coders

Do you remember your first “Hello, World!” experiment? You probably opened a development environment, picked a language and tried it out. Your first quantum “Hello, World!” doesn’t need to be that different. If you want to dive in, here are a few suggestions:

If you’re a beginner:

  • Brush up on Python and get the latest Python distribution, 3.5+
  • !pip install the Qiskit SDK. If you just want to dabble, you can do so via Jupyter notebooks. If you plan to get serious, you can get set up in your VSCode IDE by installing the Qiskit extension, which will give you useful tools like autocomplete, a linter, snippets and in-line documentation.
  • If you want to run on real hardware, in addition to simulators, get an account on the IBM Q Experience and set up your API token.
  • Try reproducing some of the “Hello, World!” examples in the Qiskit github repository. Once you’ve mastered those, check out the others.

  • Join the Qiskit workspace on Slack, where our worldwide community can help answer your questions.

If you’re intermediate:

  • Build an understanding of the principles that differentiate quantum from classical computing. There are a series of tutorials and exercises within the IBM Q Experience and Qiskit GitHub repos for doing this.
  • Begin contributing to Qiskit through GitHub. There’s plenty you can do without a degree in quantum information, like figuring out new optimization approaches for circuit transpiling or new ways of benchmarking quantum systems.
  • Experiment with algorithms using Qiskit Aqua, an element of Qiskit that allows classical computer applications to send complex operations to be run on quantum computers, over the cloud. You can use pre-built algorithms or create your own with Aqua.

For more advanced community members:

And, if you want to check out what I showed at Tech Crunch, you can get a copy of my Jupyter Notebook from on GitHub.

I hope you decide to get involved. I look forward to making many new discoveries together!

Dr. Dario Gil is the Chief Operating Officer of IBM Research, a global organization with over 3,000 researchers across 13 laboratories and 21 locations devoted to advancing the frontiers of information technology. As the Vice President of AI and Quantum Computing, Dr. Gil is also responsible for IBM’s global research efforts in artificial intelligence and for IBM’s quantum computing program. He co-chairs the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab along with Professor Anantha Chandrakasan, Dean of the MIT School of Engineering. Dr. Gil’s research results have appeared in over 20 international journals and conferences and he is the author of numerous patents. Dr. Gil is an elected member of the IBM Academy of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.