Alibaba Launches 11-Qubit Quantum Computing Cloud Service

Quantum computing is a buzzword in the tech world. Its promise of greatly improved speed compared to binary-based classical computing and its potential for supercharging artificial intelligence have made quantum computing something of a holy grail for global tech giants.

Alibaba took a big step towards quantum computing yesterday when its cloud service subsidiary Aliyun (“Alibaba Cloud”) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences jointly launched an 11-qubit quantum computing service, which is available to the public on the Quantum Computing Cloud Platform.

A Qubit, or quantum bit, is a unit of quantum information, the quantum equivalent of a classical binary bit. Qubits can be in superpositions of states, so they are not limited by binary code’s two definite states (0 or 1). The properties of qubits make quantum computing in theory capable of storing more information and processing data exponentially faster.

Alibaba becomes the second company to provide public cloud computing services with processing power of 10+ qubits. Last November IBM released 20-qubit quantum computers through its cloud service.

Aliyun encourages users, especially researchers, to run algorithms on Alibaba’s quantum computers to conduct preliminary experiments. This will help detect technical bottlenecks, optimize user experience, and develop next-generation processors.

“This launch means that Aliyun’s quantum computing researchers can more easily experiment with real-world processors to help them understand the hardware and lead the development of quantum tools while fueling in continuous improvements from the client experience,” says Dr. Yaoyun Shi, Chief Scientist of Quantum Technology at Aliyun.

Aliyun Quantum Computing Cloud Platform. Courtesy of Aliyun.

The Chinese e-commerce giant accelerated its development of quantum computing in 2015 when Aliyun and the Chinese Academy of Science jointly developed the Alibaba Quantum Laboratory (AQL). The lab has since acquired a number of well-known scientists, such as Dr. Shi from the University of Michigan, and two-time Gödel Prize winner Dr. Mario Szegedy.

AQL has released an ambitious 15-year roadmap. By 2025, it expects to have built quantum computers that will be the world’s fastest by today’s measure. By 2030, AQL hopes to achieve a general quantum computing prototype with 50–100 qubits.

Aliyun is also offering a new 32-qubit quantum computer simulation service. By comparing simulated experiment results with real results on quantum computers, users can measure the latter’s performance, verify correctness, etc.

Renowned Chinese physicist Dr. Guangcan Guo also announced yesterday that his team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has simulated a 64-qubit quantum computer on a conventional supercomputer, outperforming the simulated 56-qubit quantum computers IBM released last year.

The global quantum computing race is heating up. Not to be outdone by IBM or Alibaba, Google researchers last year released a paper demonstrating how 50-qubit quantum computers can outperform classical computers, also known as Quantum Supremacy. Google also plans to add D-Wave quantum computers to its public cloud.

Meanwhile Microsoft, which has been investing in quantum technology since 1997, released a quantum computing development kit preview last December, which includes tools developers need to get started with quantum computing.

Alibaba sees quantum computing as a revolutionary technology that will spark scientific breakthroughs. The company that was until recently barely noticeable in the field of fundamental research is now eager to get in the game and take the lead.

Journalist: Tony Peng| Editor: Michael Sarazen

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