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Since launching its Q Network initiative in 2017, IBM Research has been working with more than 40 Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, research labs and startups worldwide to advance the state-of-the art in quantum computing technology for commercial use. The diverse institutions and industries in the network are getting ready for a world beyond Moore’s Law, in which quantum computing has the potential to solve certain classes of problems in chemistry, artificial intelligence, and optimization once thought intractable.
Quantum computing progress is being made outside of corporate, academic and government labs, too. The public IBM Q Experience systems now have more than 100,000 users. They have downloaded Qiskit, the open source software platform, more than 150,000 times, run more than 7 million experiments, and published more than 140 research papers.
Quantum computing marks an exponential advance in computing unlike any preceding it. New ways of thinking are needed to continually improve the hardware and develop software that can fully harness its potential. The next few years mark a formative period, with companies investigating where the technology aligns with their business needs. And computer scientists will work alongside physicists to better understand the fundamental science needed to build increasingly powerful systems.
The IBM Q Network partners with early adopter, innovative organizations, offering access to IBM’s most-powerful quantum computing systems through the cloud. Only through this exchange of ideas, research and testing will quantum computing reach its full potential, powering breakthroughs that lead to new medicines and materials as well as advanced business and financial models.
Here’s is a look at how some of the Q Network organizations are getting quantum ready, researching possible quantum advantages in their industries:
Meeting Tomorrow’s Business Challenges
Automaker Daimler, an IBM Q Network partner has a broad interest in how quantum computing can impact everything from the optimization of transportation logistics, to predictions about future materials for electric mobility, which is based on well-functioning cell chemistry of vehicle batteries. There is justified hope that quantum computers will yield initial results in the years ahead to precisely simulate battery-cell chemistry, and the aging processes and performance limits of battery cells.
“Since joining the IBM Q Network, Daimler’s team continues to work in close collaboration with IBM to advance the field of quantum computing for chemistry and materials science in an effort to realize novel paths to computationally guided materials discovery,” said Ben Boeser, director, Open Innovation, Mercedes-Benz R&D North America.
The U.S.’s largest bank by assets has spent the past several months assembling a team of engineers and mathematicians who work alongside IBM researchers to determine how quantum computing can improve trading strategies, improve client portfolios, and better-analyze financial risk. One quantum algorithm under development, for example, could potentially deliver a quadratic speedup in use cases of derivative pricing— a complex financial instrument that requires 10,000 simulations to price on a classical, conventional computer, would need just 100 quantum operations on a quantum device.
[When achieved], it would drive down overall compute costs and help the firm manage risk closer to real-time, says Nikitas Stamatopoulos, a theoretical quantum physicist and programmer with JPMorgan Chase.
IBM’s Q Network is one of the quantum platforms that has helped support the professional services firm’s efforts to help its clients explore both the longer-term and more immediate impact that quantum computing could have on their organizations. Accenture will present several prototype quantum-computing applications at IBM’s 2019 THINK conference that demonstrate how the technology could vastly improve systems and processes many companies already have in place, including recommendation engines, vehicle route planners, and customer service systems. The goal is to inspire companies to start thinking pragmatically about how they can prepare themselves to harness the power of quantum computing, rather than dismissing the technology as something confined to research laboratories.
A lot of quantum’s near-term value is allowing companies to revisit existing challenges and getting them to raise their expectations, according to Carl Dukatz, who leads Accenture’s Quantum Computing program. “If quantum computing is ultimately the game changer it’s predicted to be, we want our clients to be ready to embrace it.”
Opening Quantum Computing Up to More People
Cambridge Quantum Computing
This Q Network startup is one of several organizations filling the crucial role of creating tools that enable developers and commercial users to take advantage of quantum computing without the need for deep expertise in the technology. Cambridge Quantum Computing’s t|ket> (pronounced “ticket”), for example, works with Qiskit, IBM’s open-source quantum software platform, to help developers compile and optimize their programs for quantum computing hardware.
One of the most significant near-term commercial applications for CQC’s technology is the development of programs that apply quantum computing to the search for new chemical compounds that could lead to new drug discoveries, or automobiles made from lighter, yet more durable materials.
The Palo Alto, CA-based startup is likewise playing an important role in commercial quantum computing by developing a software platform to help organizations without the expertise to develop their own quantum computing applications. The company also researches new algorithms and applications well-suited for quantum computers. QC Ware’s goal is to remove the bottlenecks that could slow quantum adoption. Ultimately, the idea is that a trader at a financial services firm, for example, would be able to leverage the power of a quantum computer without needing to know anything about the technology, other than its ability to solve a previously intractable problem.
A Giant Leap for Science and Discovery
The European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) is working with IBM to explore how quantum computing can advance scientific understanding of the universe. IBM and CERN scientists are investigating how quantum machine learning techniques, for example, can quickly and thoroughly analyze and classify data produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. At the 2019 European Technology Quantum Conference in Grenoble, France, scientists from CERN openlab, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and IBM Research presented preliminary research comparing the results of particle physics experiments — specifically, Higgs boson analysis — conducted on quantum and conventional computers.
The success of CERN’s LHC program means an exponential growth in the amount of data it must analyze, and there are concerns that conventional computers won’t be able to keep up. By 2026, computing requirements are estimated to be around 50-100 times higher than today. It is here that the power of quantum computing can become a really enabling technology, offering a qualitative and not only quantitative leap.
NC State University
NC State, the first university in North America to establish an IBM Q Hub as part of the global IBM Q Network, is in the early stages of developing a multidisciplinary quantum-computing curriculum to educate future leaders in the space. The hub’s leadership has spent the past few months assembling a group of professors and students with expertise in mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer and electrical engineering, and computer science to chart a path forward for the university’s quantum computing research. As part of this effort, the university announced an endowed Distinguished Chair in Quantum Computing, a faculty position that will hold tenure in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and will be a key leader in the growing quantum computing community at the university.
NC State researchers have already begun investigating how quantum systems can greatly speed machine learning techniques for training artificial intelligence systems and performing highly complex molecular modeling, which is crucial to the discovery of new chemical compounds and, eventually, new types of materials, medicines and other breakthroughs.
The first IBM Q Hub in Asia, Keio is working with IBM to help organizations explore quantum applications important to business and science, while at the same time introducing the technology to the next generation of scientists. The university has spent the past several months bringing together members of its team, which includes students working alongside scientists with expertise in quantum chemistry, financial modeling, quantum encryption and security, and other areas to determine which algorithms may be most useful. The students and researchers are also learning how to map their algorithms to qubits on the quantum chip and writing programs so they run efficiently, which reduces the amount of time in which errors can occur while a program is running.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Part of the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge is exploring how quantum computers, working alongside the world’s fastest supercomputers, including IBM Summit, can help researchers benchmark new methods for studying strongly correlated dynamics in quantum materials, chemistry, and nuclear physics. Simulations at the atomic level are so complex that even the most powerful conventional computers can provide only estimations.
Oak Ridge researchers are the first to successfully simulate an atomic nucleus using a quantum computer by performing more than 700,000 quantum computing measurements of the energy of a deuteron, the nuclear bound state of a proton and a neutron. From these measurements, the team extracted the deuteron’s binding energy—the minimum amount of energy needed to disassemble it into these subatomic particles— making a giant leap in the use of quantum computing for scientific simulations.
These and dozens of other IBM Q Network organizations are pushing quantum into the mainstream as a technology that may soon have great utility across industry, academia, and everyday life.
IBM Q Sessions at Think 2019