Quantum computers have been the focus of a lot of attention in recent years because they have the potential to revolutionize computing. Quantum computers are powerful, and their applications range from data encryption and analysis to artificial intelligence and machine learning. However, because of their complexity, quantum computers cost a lot of money – but how much, exactly?
In this article, we’ll explore the current price of quantum computers and provide some insight into why they’re so expensive.
What is a Quantum Computer & What Makes Them Viable?
In contrast to classical computers, quantum computers rely on quantum mechanics to perform calculations, manipulating quantum bits (qubits) to represent information.
Qubits are basically two-state quantum mechanical systems. This phenomenon is called superposition and allows quantum computers to perform specific calculations at much faster speeds than classical computers.
Quantum computers, we should note, have the potential to perform certain tasks such as factoring large numbers or searching large databases for specific information sometimes better than classical models.
One more unique feature of quantum mechanics that quantum computers have that classical computers don’t is entanglement. This is where two or more qubits become connected (entangled) and their states become dependent on each other, which allows a quantum computer to perform operations on multiple qubits simultaneously. This — like superposition — allows quantum computers to solve specific problems exponentially faster than classical computers.
Quantum computers are currently in the early stages of their development. Companies such as Microsoft, Google, and IBM (and many startups too) — as well as dozens of universities and government research institutes — are researching, developing, and modeling early NISQs whose applications are expected to have far-reaching effects for optimization and logistics, simulating complex systems to problems Molecular chemistry and cryptography.
What Types of Quantum Computers Are There?
2023 saw several types of quantum computers being developed and produced. These are usually divided into the modalities of the qubits they make use of. Currently, there are five leading qubit-type approaches. There is:
The superconducting qubit quantum computer is the most widely used type of quantum computer. This type of quantum computer uses tiny electrical circuits to generate and ultimately manipulate qubits, which are usually made of superconducting materials.
Currently, companies working on this qubit modality include organizations such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, Rigetti Computing, IQM, and Quantum Circuits, Inc.
Another popular approach is to use an ion trap quantum computer. It uses atoms or molecules with a net electric charge called “ions” that are trapped and manipulated using electric and magnetic fields to store and process quantum information.
Companies developing quantum computers in this field include organizations such as How many (formed after the merger of Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum Computing), ionQ, Alpine Quantum Technologies, and eleQtron.
Another important qubit approach that has supporters is the photonic quantum computer. It uses photons (particles of light) to carry and process quantum information.
Commercial players representing this qubit modality include organizations such as PsiQuantumXanadu Computing and ORCA.
Atom-neutral quantum computing uses atomic-neutral quantum processors, which are atoms suspended in a very high vacuum by tightly focused arrays of laser beams called optical tweezers. The researchers have upgraded the array of more than 100 alkali atoms, which each have one valence electron, and executed a quantum algorithm using the smaller array.
Commercial players here include organizations such as Cold QuantaQuera and Pascal.
Quantum dot computing uses qubits made up of pairs of quantum dots, which are silicon qubits. These properties make it attractive for a wide range of applications, including use in quantum computers.
Companies investing in this approach include organizations such as Diraq, Intel and Quantum Motion.
Other Qubit Modalities
There are also other approaches such as electrons on helium, quantum computers using silicon CMOS and nitrogen vacancy centers (also known as NV centers).
It’s worth considering before jumping to conclusions that each type of quantum computer has unique advantages and disadvantages and that different types of quantum computers may be better suited to different types of problems.
Can You Buy a Quantum Computer?
Yes, it is possible to buy a quantum computer by 2023. However, quantum computers are not yet widely available to the general public and are currently very expensive and very difficult to manufacture. Another stumbling block to consider is that most of these machines are owned or operated by large corporations, research institutes, and government agencies, so access to them (let alone buying them) is dependent on the access conditions of these commercial companies and institutions.
However, if a person (or company, for that matter) is somehow interested in buying a quantum computer, the best way to approach them is to contact IBM, Microsoft, Rigetti Computing, D-Wave or Google directly. They can offer individuals access to their quantum computing resources through cloud-based services, enabling researchers, developers and businesses to experiment with and harness the power of quantum computing without owning the physical hardware. The cost of using these services can vary depending on the amount of time and resources used, but usually ranges from a few dollars to several thousand dollars per hour.
Quantum Computer prices in 2023
As already mentioned, quantum computing is a rapidly developing technology but it is still in its infancy. The caveat is that pricing such machines is more of an art form, than a science. Things to consider before a hypothetical purchase of a quantum computer could be what type of system you want to buy, the number of qubits required, and —other important things— the level of expert support required from the vendor when deploying the machine. All of these things will have an effect on the overall cost.
Roughly speaking, the cost of buying a full engine in 2023 is currently prohibitively high, with the kit that goes into most systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Quantum computing systems like IBM sell for tens of millions as part of a multi-year, full-service contract.
For example, Microsoft’s Azure Quantum Computing cloud-based service allows first-time users to earn $500 worth of free Azure Quantum Credits to use with any participating quantum hardware provider. They report that if you’ve used all your credits and need more, you can sign up for the Azure Quantum Credits program.
Another quantum computing provider is AWS, whose price plans for using cloud-based services start at $29 per month and include AWS Support.
Quantum Computer Cost Forecast
Many experts in the industry predict the cost of quantum computing hardware will continue to fall as technology advances, making it more accessible to a wider range of businesses and organizations. In a recent talk, CIA CTO Nand Mulchandani noted that the quantum industry is still very early days and unit costs are still very high, as we are still in the research and development stage.
In general, the price of a quantum computer will inevitably be influenced by several important factors, including how advanced inventions in the sector are made, the market demand for the technology, and competition among quantum computing providers.
Will Quantum Computers Soon Reach Commercial Use?
Again, this question requires a crystal ball to predict accurately, but quantum computers are a promising technology that could revolutionize many fields, including machine learning, optimization, and materials science.
Taking this into account, today’s most technologically advanced quantum computers by the likes of IBM and Google have hundreds of qubits, which is an amazing thing. However, to really get to where we want to be with this technology, the qubit number will probably need to increase significantly, perhaps by thousands or even millions of qubits to have a commercially useful impact.
In addition, these machines require complex infrastructure and cooling systems (see superconducting quantum computing in many cases) to maintain the low temperatures necessary for the qubits to function properly, as well as reliable error correction systems.
Despite these challenges, we are slowly getting there as an industry. While it’s difficult to predict an exact timeline for when quantum computers will reach commercial use, many experts believe practical applications could emerge within the next decade or two.
Featured image: Credit: Quanta Magazine