IBM has four superconducting qubit error detection could eventually lead to large scale universal quantum computer

IBM scientists today unveiled two critical advances towards the realization of a practical quantum computer. For the first time, they showed the ability to detect and measure both kinds of quantum errors simultaneously, as well as demonstrated a new, square quantum bit circuit design that is the only physical architecture that could successfully scale to larger dimensions.

IBM showed for the first time the ability to detect and measure the two types of quantum errors (bit-flip and phase-flip) that will occur in any real quantum computer. Until now, it was only possible to address one type of quantum error or the other, but never both at the same time. This is a necessary step toward quantum error correction, which is a critical requirement for building a practical and reliable large-scale quantum computer.

IBM’s novel and complex quantum bit circuit, based on a square lattice of four superconducting qubits on a chip roughly one-quarter-inch square, enables both types of quantum errors to be detected at the same time. By opting for a square-shaped design versus a linear array – which prevents the detection of both kinds of quantum errors simultaneously – IBM’s design shows the best potential to scale by adding more qubits to arrive at a working quantum system.

“Quantum computing could be potentially transformative, enabling us to solve problems that are impossible or impractical to solve today,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. “While quantum computers have traditionally been explored for cryptography, one area we find very compelling is the potential for practical quantum systems to solve problems in physics and quantum chemistry that are unsolvable today. This could have enormous potential in materials or drug design, opening up a new realm of applications.”

Surface code implementation and error detection quantum circuit. (a) Cartoon schematic of SC consisting of alternating square tiles of X- (yellow) and Z- (green) plaquettes for detecting phase-flip (Z) and bit-flip (X) errors, respectively. Semi-circular pieces reflect parity checks at the boundaries of the lattice. These plaquette tiles can be mapped onto a lattice of physical superconducting qubits with appropriate nearest-neighbour interconnectivity, as shown in the layer labelled MAP. Here there are code qubits (purple spheres), X-syndrome qubits (yellow) for phase parity detection of surrounding code qubits, and Z-syndrome qubits (green) for bit parity detection of surrounding code qubits. The physical connectivity for superconducting qubits can be realised via coupling every qubit to two quantum bus resonators, shown as wavy blue diamonds in the MAP. The device studied in this work (false-colored optical micrograph in b) embodies two half-plaquettes of the SC as circled in a, and allows for independent and simultaneous detection of X and Z errors on two-code qubits, shaded purple in b and labelled Q1 and Q3. (c) The circuit to implement the half-plaquette operations encodes the bit (ZZ) and phase (XX) parities of the two-code qubits’ Bell state onto the respective syndrome qubits, Q2 (green) and Q4 (yellow). Arbitrary errors ε are intentionally introduced on the code qubit Q1 and detected from the correlated measurement of the syndrome qubits. Q2 (Q4) is initialized to . A Hadamard operation, H, is applied to Q4 before measurement.

Nature Communications – Demonstration of a quantum error detection code using a square lattice of four superconducting qubits

Detecting quantum errors
The most basic piece of information that a typical computer understands is a bit. Much like a beam of light that can be switched on or off, a bit can have only one of two values: “1” or “0”. However, a quantum bit (qubit) can hold a value of 1 or 0 as well as both values at the same time, described as superposition and simply denoted as “0+1”. The sign of this superposition is important because both states 0 and 1 have a phase relationship to each other. This superposition property is what allows quantum computers to choose the correct solution amongst millions of possibilities in a time much faster than a conventional computer.

Two types of errors can occur on such a superposition state. One is called a bit-flip error, which simply flips a 0 to a 1 and vice versa. This is similar to classical bit-flip errors and previous work has showed how to detect these errors on qubits. However, this is not sufficient for quantum error correction because phase-flip errors can also be present, which flip the sign of the phase relationship between 0 and 1 in a superposition state. Both types of errors must be detected in order for quantum error correction to function properly.
Quantum information is very fragile because all existing qubit technologies lose their information when interacting with matter and electromagnetic radiation. Theorists have found ways to preserve the information much longer by spreading information across many physical qubits. “Surface code” is the technical name for a specific error correction scheme which spreads quantum information across many qubits. It allows for only nearest neighbor interactions to encode one logical qubit, making it sufficiently stable to perform error-free operations.

The IBM Research team used a variety of techniques to measure the states of two independent syndrome (measurement) qubits. Each reveals one aspect of the quantum information stored on two other qubits (called code, or data qubits). Specifically, one syndrome qubit revealed whether a bit-flip error occurred to either of the code qubits, while the other syndrome qubit revealed whether a phase-flip error occurred. Determining the joint quantum information in the code qubits is an essential step for quantum error correction because directly measuring the code qubits destroys the information contained within them.

Because these qubits can be designed and manufactured using standard silicon fabrication techniques, IBM anticipates that once a handful of superconducting qubits can be manufactured reliably and repeatedly, and controlled with low error rates, there will be no fundamental obstacle to demonstrating error correction in larger lattices of qubits.


The ability to detect and deal with errors when manipulating quantum systems is a fundamental requirement for fault-tolerant quantum computing. Unlike classical bits that are subject to only digital bit-flip errors, quantum bits are susceptible to a much larger spectrum of errors, for which any complete quantum error-correcting code must account. Whilst classical bit-flip detection can be realized via a linear array of qubits, a general fault-tolerant quantum error-correcting code requires extending into a higher-dimensional lattice. Here we present a quantum error detection protocol on a two-by-two planar lattice of superconducting qubits. The protocol detects an arbitrary quantum error on an encoded two-qubit entangled state via quantum non-demolition parity measurements on another pair of error syndrome qubits. This result represents a building block towards larger lattices amenable to fault-tolerant quantum error correction architectures such as the surface code

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SOURCES – Nature Communication, IBM