IBM announced it would allow researchers, programmers, and the general public to access and experiment with its quantum computer. While IBM’s current system contains just five qubits, it’s a fundamentally different type of computer than the D-Wave systems we’ve covered before.
D-Wave’s quantum annealer is best understood as a device that’s potentially faster than any classical computer at solving a specific set of problems. Measuring and defining the scenarios in which D-Wave outperforms classical systems is something Google and NASA have been doing for several years, but the sparsely connected topology of D-Wave systems limits its ability to solve real-world problems.
IBM’s five-qubit system isn’t very useful for problem solving either, but it’s a universal quantum computer, by which IBM means its architecture could be used for solving a much larger class of problems, provided the number of qubits can be scaled upwards. What makes this particular computer so interesting, however, is that IBM has found a way to implement error-checking in hardware — and error-checking is absolutely essential in a quantum computer.