What is Qiskit, IBM's open source quantum computing framework

Researchers, scientists, academics, hobbyists, businesses - all of these groups are represented in the community of Qiskit, the open source framework based on IBM's quantum computing programme that's opening up access to real quantum computing in the cloud for everyone.

Qiskit (Quantum Information Science Kit) is just over a year old, and it followed up the IBM Quantum Experience - IBM Q Experience for short - a program that put quantum computers on the cloud (for the first time) so researchers and developers could tinker with the almost brand-new field of computation.

Since opening up the Q Experience, hobbyists have created games and composed music using real quantum computers, while scientists and researchers are using qubits to solve problems that were previously too difficult to solve.

"The Q Experience is basically an API that allows people to send jobs to be executed on real quantum hardware," explains Ali Javadi, research staff member at IBM. "This is a Python interface, for ease of expression, but it has expanded to much more than the initial version. The overarching goal is to allow a set of very different people access to a quantum computer."

Quantum, says Javadi, has understandably intrigued a wide range of people in the field. It is such a new way of working that no one, even IBM, is very certain of the path these quantum experiments might lead. To put it (extremely) simply, unlike the traditional computational method of two binary states - 1s and 0s - quantum bits, or qubits, can exist in both states at once.

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"Developers can write quantum programs but also scientists who have expertise in a particular field can use higher-level libraries for expressing, for example, quantum chemistry applications, or quantum optimisation applications," Javadi says. "These are basically problems that are computationally very hard to solve on a classical computer, and we believe one of the earliest applications of a quantum computer is to speed up those hard problems in specific domains.

"And so this library we recently released - Qiskit Acqua - the goal is to allow those people, without learning much about quantum computing, to be able to use it as an accelerator under the hood, to speed up certain tasks, and to get familiar with what quantum can offer to speed up certain tasks."

Javadi's background is in computer science, and specifically in quantum compilers. One of the goals for near-term quantum devices, he explains, is that the resources are very limited, whether that's the number of qubits or the number of operations that can be applied to qubits. Compilers take user inputs and makes them more efficient based on the resources available to get the best result.