How MITx PRO is Building the Future of Quantum with IBM Q
The IBM Q Experience makes the world of quantum computing explorable and hands-on. Anyone seeking to learn QC can access IBM Q to create and run algorithms on real quantum computing hardware. While books and lectures have traditionally supported learning, offering people a way to get practical experience “by doing” helps too.
We recently spoke with MIT Physics Professor William D. Oliver about how MITx PRO, MIT’s online learning platform for professionals, is using the IBM Q Experience to teach quantum computing online. Professor Oliver, in addition to being an instructor in MITx PRO’s Quantum Computing Fundamentals & Quantum Computing Realities online programs, is a Principal Investigator in the Engineering Quantum Systems Group (on the MIT campus) and in the Quantum Information and Integrated Nanosystems Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Why is MITx PRO using the IBM Q Experience?
The IBM Q Experience is a very important part our online quantum computing courses and something that makes them truly unique. Created with generous financial support from IBM Q and the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, our courses are intended for professionals and leaders in business, government, and technology seeking an understanding of the business and technical implications of quantum computing. The IBM Q Experience provides these learners with a highly-accessible, hands-on platform where they’re using a real quantum computer. The IBM Q Experience also enables learners to use a classical computer to simulate how that quantum computer is going to behave, so learners can ensure their algorithm is working before they run it on the real quantum computer.
How are you using IBM Q in the courses?
In each of the four courses, we present an array of theoretical and experimental material. And, at the end of each course, we have a lab practicum where learners put this new knowledge to use. That’s where the IBM Q Experience comes in.
So, for instance, in the first course we present one of the first quantum algorithms, called the Deutsch-Jozsa algorithm, and we step through it in detail. We show exactly how the Deutsch-Jozsa algorithm works and where the magic of quantum interference and quantum parallelism appear in that algorithm, essentially, what gives it its super classic performance. We then have the learners program and run this algorithm on IBM Q. When they do so, they see firsthand how the algorithm works.
In the third and the fourth courses, we look at practical realities, so we can see the impact of noise on the outputs of the quantum computer and how well it performs. Learners acquire several tricks to mitigate that noise dynamically using the pulses and the controls of the quantum computer, in a hands-on way.
How does IBM Q help online learners?
The IBM Q Experience gives our learners a visceral experience with programming a quantum computer. What learners discover is that it's not so different than programming a classical computer. It looks like a computer program, because IBM has abstracted it to the point where you can write a program using roman text in a line-by-line format, like you'd expect. Several companies now have varying degrees of this type of software abstraction, and, in IBM's case, it's called QISKit.
Our learners have all said that the IBM Q Experience was one of the high points of the course. In the course feedback, almost everybody said they’d gotten hands-on experience and that's something that was memorable.
Overall, how do you view the IBM Q Experience as an educational tool?
The IBM Q Experience helps demystify quantum computing. Until IBM Q, the only people who had access to prototype quantum computers were the PhD students or post doctoral researchers who worked in university groups. So, you're limiting that experience exposure to a very small fraction the general population. With the IBM Q Experience, anybody can have access to a quantum computer, for instance people who have experience and talent in writing algorithms, or in classical computer science, or classical electrical engineering or other fields of physics. IBM Q opens the talent pool to a much broader audience.
With MIT xPRO and IBM Q, we’re trying to get more and more people engaged in quantum computing, to help them get hands-on experience with a real quantum computer. These are the people who will end up making the future breakthroughs in quantum information applications. In the past, many leading researchers outside the field would say of quantum, ‘when you have something real, I'll think about quantum. But until then, I've got plenty of other interesting problems to work on.” That’s not the situation anymore, as the IBM Q Experience makes clear. Just being able to sit and play around with a quantum computer, that starts the whole thought process. You can't fully develop things in the abstract. IBM Q and online quantum computers are the catalyst.
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