IBM have been making huge advances in quantum computing ever since their researchers helped create the field of quantum information processing in the 1970s. Now more than four decades on, IBM have pushed this radical technology out of the dreams of quantum physicists and into the commercial realm of business and science.
According to a JP Morgan 2017 report, the high end computing market is today worth $5-6 billion. But, thanks to the extraordinary commercial potential of quantum computing this market is set to increase to $10 billion-plus over the next few years. Moreover, leading technologists believe this represents a new era of industrial innovation that could supercharge the development of new drugs and materials and could unleash machine learning.
IBM are dedicating a considerable amount of resources and expertise to the field. The team now has over a hundred engineers from around the globe, a long history in microelectronics, systems, and software, and strong relationships with large enterprises and governments. Today, they are the first and only company to offer a real, public quantum computer on the cloud, as well as having a working prototype 50 qubit computer.
The commitment is to advance the technology and engage effectively with global industry. IBMQ is an industry first initiative to build commercially available universal quantum computers and services for business and science – delivered via the IBM cloud platform. At the end of January the organisation announced an upgrade to its quantum cloud software system. Dario Gil, who directs AI and quantum computing at IBM explained the ultimate objective, “We’re at a world record pace. But we’ve got to make sure non-physicists can use this.”
Last week Quantum Business spoke with Bob Wisnieff, CTO of Quantum Computing at IBM Research. Dr Wisnieff joined IBM in 1986 after earning a Ph.D. in applied physics and has spent his career with the company. He is the Department Group Manager for government projects and Central Scientific Services. Wisnieff shared some of the pioneering work being done today by the IBM team and the accessible and useful services being pushed to the commercial sphere.
“IBM has a long history of exploring quantum, including papers and patents in the 1970s by IBM Fellow Charlie Bennett who is considered ‘the father of quantum information theory.’ Dr. Bennett and his colleague and IBM Fellow Dr. Rolf Landauer, now deceased, have an American Physical Society award named in their honor: The Rolf Landauer and Charles H. Bennett Award in Quantum Computing.” Wisnieff explained that this rich history has laid the foundations for the amazing progress seen in recent years.
“Today, IBM is the first and only company to offer a real, public quantum computer on the cloud, and have a working prototype 50- qubit computer.”
Wisnieff claims the team are exploring every aspect of quantum computing today. “The team has published results in quantum machine learning, chemistry, and other research that advance our short-term goals of developing applications using today’s approximate quantum computers. The long-term goals are for developing fault-tolerant superconducting qubits.”
A Growing Quantum Community
IBM is committed to bringing quantum out of the lab and into the real world by making quantum technology accessible to global enterprises. Today this is made possible through the IBM Q Experience, a quantum computing user guide that helps researchers learn about quantum principals and run algorithms on real hardware.
According to Wisnieff this is where the fundamental progress is being done. “Most exciting to me is what the IBM Q Experience community is doing today.”
“To date, we have more than 75,000 users.”
“They’ve run more than 2.5 million experiments. These community members have published more than 60 papers based on experiments run on our open systems. IBM Q Experience is also being used by 1,500 universities, 300 private institutions, and 300 high schools. This community is essential to growing the field of quantum computing.”
The IBM Q Network
The IBM Q Network, announced in December 2017, engages with some of the largest organisations around the world. The network includes a dozen clients from Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, and US national research labs, including JPMorgan Chase, Daimler, Samsung, Barclays, Honda, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University and University of Melbourne.
“We are collaborating with these groups on developing practical quantum applications across a number of industries today,” Wisnieff states. ” The work spans quantum chemistry for possible drug design, and materials development, to optimization for transportation logistics and finance.”
In April 2018, IBM revealed the names of the first startups that will join the IBM Q Network and receive cloud-based access to IBM’s real quantum computers and other resources. Bob Wisnieff revealed that the objective is to advance quantum computing as an open sourced community.
- 1QBit – Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, 1QBit builds quantum and quantum-inspired software designed to solve the world’s most demanding computational challenges. The company’s hardware-agnostic platforms and services are designed to enable the development of applications which scale alongside the advances in both classical and quantum computers. 1QBit is backed by Fujitsu Limited, CME Ventures, Accenture, Allianz and The Royal Bank of Scotland. Find out more with our interview with Andrew Fursman, CEO of 1QBit here.
- Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) – Established in 2014, CQC is a leading independent quantum computing company combining expertise in Quantum Information Processing, Quantum Technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Chemistry, Optimization and Pattern Recognition. Find out more in our interview with Ilyas Khan CEO of CQC here.
- Zapata Computing – Based in Cambridge, MA, Zapata Computing is a quantum software, applications and services company developing algorithms for chemistry, machine learning, security, and error correction.
- Strangeworks – Based in Austin, TX and founded by William Hurley, Strangeworks is a quantum computing software company designing and delivering tools for software developers and systems management for ITAdministrators and CIOs.
- QxBranch – Headquartered in Washington, D.C., QxBranch delivers advanced data analytics for finance, insurance, energy, and security customers worldwide. QxBranch is developing tools and applications enabled by quantum computing with a focus on machine learning and risk analytics.
- Quantum Benchmark – Quantum Benchmark is a venture-backed software company led by a team of the top research scientists and engineers in quantum computing, with headquarters in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada. Quantum computers require specialized software to mitigate the inevitable errors that arise during a quantum computation, which will lead to incorrect output. Quantum Benchmark provides solutions that enable error characterization, error mitigation, error correction and performance validation for quantum computing hardware. Quantum Benchmark’s True-Q™ technology helps users determine the quantum advantage that is achievable with any given quantum computing hardware for any application of interest.
- QC Ware – Based in Palo Alto, CA, QC Ware develops hardware-agnostic enterprise software solutions running on quantum computers. QC Ware’s investors include Airbus Ventures, DE Shaw Ventures and Alchemist, and it has relationships with NASA and other government agencies. QC Ware won a NSF grant, and its customers include Fortune 500 industrial and technology companies.
- Q-CTRL – Our hardware agnostic platform – Black Opal – gives you the ability to design and deploy the most effective controls to suppress errors in your quantum hardware before they accumulate, accelerating your roadmap to functional systems. Based in Sydney, Australia, Q-CTRL is backed by Main Sequence Ventures and Horizons Ventures.
IBM Q announced a commercial 20 qubit system, and a prototype 50 qubit system in November, 2017. According to Wisnieff, The 50 qubit prototype will be available to the IBM Q Network clients for the next generation of the system “within the year”.
Wisnieff refrains from projecting on the next 10 years. He suggests that improvements will occur in stages and long term progress will occur through effective collaborations between organisations and researchers. “IBM views quantum computing as a transformational technology. We expect our systems to advance over time, but I can’t comment on where quantum computers will be in 10 years.”
“In terms of quantum and AI, we are exploring their intersection today. And last year, in collaboration with Raytheon BBN , we published a demonstration of a machine learning algorithm working more efficiently on a 5 qubit device, than on a classical computer.” The research, published in “Demonstration of quantum advantage in machine learning” showed that just a few superconducting qubits could discover the hidden string faster and more efficiently than today’s computers.”
Bob Wisnieff, is CTO of Quantum Computing at IBM Research
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Written by Hal Briggs from Quantum Business