The rapid growth in quantum computing over the past five years has been exciting. While earlier it was restricted to research labs, in recent months, quantum computing gathered pace with governments and private investors of the world pouring billions of dollars into quantum tech innovation. Analysts observe that quantum computers may now come one step closer to reality to solve several real-life business problems that are beyond the capability of conventional computers.
IBM, which has been a pioneer in quantum tech research and innovation, plans to dominate the quantum computer industry. The Big Blue declared its plans to build a 1,000-qubit quantum computer by 2023, a first time ever in the tech industry, and also broke new grounds in November by unveiling ‘Eagle’, a cutting-edge processor that’s reportedly the most powerful quantum computing processor developed by IBM thus far and could blaze a historic new trail in IT.
In a recent interaction with CXOToday, L Venkata Subramaniam – Sr. Manager – AI Science and IBM Quantum Ambassador, IBM Research India explains the vast opportunities before CIOs and IT departments with quantum computing experiments being applied into the real-world settings. He also explains how the technology is poised to fundamentally transform the digital world.
If Quantum computing is already making inroads in the enterprise, can you cite a few examples? Also, what is the current adoption rate in the enterprise community?
The world has entered into the Quantum Decade — an era when enterprises begin to see quantum computing’s business value. This year’s unprecedented advances in hardware, software development, and services validate the technology’s momentum, creating an ecosystem that paves the way for further breakthroughs in 2022 and helps prepare the market for the eventual adoption of this revolutionary technology. Governments worldwide have committed over 25 Billion Dollars to quantum research and development. The govt of India committed Rs 8000 crores in the 2020 union budget. For example, the IBM Quantum Network has over 170 Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups, and national research labs that are working on diverse technologies ranging from finance, energy to healthcare. The dozens of startups that are part of this network are playing a vital role in bringing quantum computing from the lab to the commercial sector.
For example, IBM and Cleveland Clinic are working together to establish the Discovery Accelerator, a joint Cleveland Clinic – IBM center with the mission of fundamentally advancing the pace of discovery in healthcare and life sciences through the use of high performance computing on the hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing technologies.
Again, JP Morgan Chase and Co along with IBM is developing improved methodologies for financial modelling including option pricing and risk analysis. Another firm, ExxonMobil plans to solve the logistical impossibility of moving the world’s cleanest-burning fuel LPG across the globe in partnership with IBM Quantum.
Further, Mitsubishi Chemical is applying quantum computing to help develop lithium-air batteries with greater energy density in partnership with IBM Quantum. IBM and the University of Tokyo formed the Japan – IBM Quantum Partnership, a broad national partnership framework in which other universities, industry, and government can engage.
More recently, IBM and one of Europe’s leading organizations for applied research, Fraunhofer- Gesellschaft, are partnering to advance the research and experimentation of Quantum computing in Germany.
What difference can it make in the business world? In which sectors it can be game changers?
In 2021, we saw some use cases where businesses could put quantum computing to work. By incorporated quantum computing into their workflow to explore reducing carbon emissions, while Goldman Sachs was able to implement algorithms that could explore sophisticated pricing models.
Quantum Optimization will address logistics and supply chain, enabling companies to solve complex problems at unprecedented speed. Finance with its complex mathematical problems that require quick solutions is another area that is likely to benefit immensely.
Another field that will immensely benefit from quantum computing is Chemistry. It can help discover new materials, new drugs, new fertilizers, new energy-efficient batteries, new display sources, new bio-friendly plastics, and many more. Further quantum is likely to speed up AI, affecting almost every industry today.
What Quantum computing trends do you foresee for 2022 and beyond?
There’s no question that in 2022 there will be further breakthroughs in hardware and software. There’s simply too much brainpower and momentum at work right across the industry, not to mention in scientific research institutions, for the technology to not advance further. Several countries like India, US, China, UK, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Japan, EU are committing billions of dollars for quantum research and development. We are likely to see an acceleration in the adoption of quantum computing by academia, industry, and governments.
IBM announced its Development Roadmap, which showcases our integrated vision and timeline for full-stack quantum development including hardware, software, and applications. By 2023, IBM’s 1000+ qubit quantum systems will be powerful enough to explore major problems that are impossible on classical machines. And, thanks to the IBM Cloud, they will be accessible enough that any developer who could explore quantum computing to solve a problem will be able to tap IBM’s quantum systems.
In 2024, developers will be able to call over 1,000 qubit services from Cloud APIs, and investigate error correction. And by 2025, they will be able to take advantage of enhanced quantum workflows through HPC and quantum resources.
Looking to 2025 and beyond, we think that frictionless quantum computing will become a reality. We hope that by 2030, companies and users are running billions, if not a trillion quantum circuits a day, perhaps without even realizing that they’re doing so.
A Gartner survey found that 44% of enterprises expect quantum to have a substantial impact on businesses in the next 3-5 years. Another Gartner study predicts that by 2023, 20% of organizations will be budgeting for quantum computing projects.
More and more companies today are realizing that quantum offers them an opportunity to solve tough unsolvable problems enabling them to gain a competitive advantage. One thing I do know is this: the end of the Quantum Decade will look nothing like the beginning. We’ll be working with quantum processors with thousands of qubits; we’ll have a whole workforce with years of experience in quantum and enterprises will have seen the payoff of quantum. Any technology leader who isn’t actively building quantum into their plans risks being left behind.
What are the biggest challenges in the Quantum space at present?
The biggest challenge is the availability of skills. Quantum requires a new way of thinking, and that requires the right education to be imparted. Organizations need to invest in building quantum teams.
Another challenge is the lack of awareness about the technology’s disruptive potential. Most industries have their own big, intractable challenges for which quantum computers offer potential solutions. So businesses in finance, energy, chemistry, AI, and other fields should get familiar with quantum computing, and identify business workflows, understand bottlenecks due to computational limitations – that can be addressed using quantum computers.
We estimate that there are only about 3,000 skilled quantum workers in the market today. That base needs to be doubled or quadrupled to exploit the full potential of quantum this decade and beyond.
For that to happen, the industry needs to engage the critical constituencies of organizational IT teams and students that enable quantum computing skills to blossom. These include quantum developer certification, as well as Bootcamp-like educational programs and investments in university curricula that empower a diverse workforce. These hands-on programs provide the access and tools to create and run quantum computing algorithms on actual quantum computing hardware or simulators.
Each year, IBM hosts Qiskit Global Summer school – a two week intensive summer school that provides participants an opportunity to study quantum computing with a focus on Quantum machine learning. There is growing interest from Indian students as well to learn Quantum computing. This year’s 5000+ summer school participants included 1700 from India. Recently IBM, in collaboration with IIT Madras offered a course on quantum computing on the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) platform. The course attracted over 10,000 registrations making it clear that faculty, students, and software engineers have ambition and aim to build quantum skills. While 64% of registered participants were students, 20% were experienced professionals, and 8% were college faculty.
How is IBM tackling the shortage specifically in the quantum research and development area?
IBM believes that open source access and adoption is how an ecosystem of developers, scientists, educators, and professionals across different industries will get Quantum Ready for this next generation of computing. Scaling a global community is key to advancing quantum computing for science and business.
IBM started one such open-source community around the software development kit, Qiskit, to build necessary code development tools and libraries for quantum developers. The community also offers skills development for thousands of quantum students.
In 2016, IBM was the first company to put a quantum computer on the cloud. In 2021, IBM offered over the cloud access to the top universities in India to real quantum computers for education and research. IBM has built up an active worldwide community of more than 325,000 users, who have run hundreds of billions of circuit executions (more than 1 billion per day), on real hardware and simulators, which have led to the publishing of more than 750 third-party research papers.
In India, while lab sessions at IITs, IISc, IISERs, etc. providing students and faculty with access to the hardware and giving training materials. In August-September 2021, IBM offered a free course on quantum computing on NPTEL along with IIT Madras. IBM also holds free summer schools, hackathons, and challenges covering thousands of students both in India and across the world.
Developer communities, — not only traditional developers but also chemists, electrical engineers, and mathematicians — are training to apply quantum concepts today while preparing for tomorrow. We also offer the quantum industry’s first developer certification for programming a quantum computer.
Please elaborate on IBM’s Quantum road map?
IBM has been working on the building blocks of quantum for decades, and last year we published a roadmap that puts us on a course toward million-plus qubit processors. And in 2020, we announced our Development Roadmap, which showcases our integrated vision and timeline for full-stack quantum development including hardware, software, and applications.
Developers exploring quantum computing today will be able to do more, faster, as IBM implements technologies designed on OpenShift to work alongside quantum computers. And more developers from different industries will have more reason and opportunity to explore quantum computing within their workflows — no need to learn new tools or languages.
The clarity and detail of this roadmap communicate to CIOs that they should be addressing quantum now, or risk falling behind. It will also encourage developers to experiment with quantum computing for tasks they had not previously considered.
Last month we unveiled our new 127-qubit ‘Eagle’ quantum processor – IBM’s first quantum processor developed and deployed to contain more than 100 operational and connected qubits. It follows IBM’s 65-qubit ‘Hummingbird’ processor unveiled in 2020 and the 27-qubit ‘Falcon’ processor unveiled in 2019. Classical computers can simulate similar outcomes of quantum circuits to some extent, but each additional qubit doubles the complexity of this task. With 127 qubits, Eagle pushes us beyond a territory accessible to classical computers. Accessing quantum computers running Eagle will enable researchers in both academia and industry to explore the uncharted computational territory.
Of course, you can’t get to practical quantum computing without a powerful, yet flexible platform that can run increasingly sophisticated quantum algorithms. Our recently unveiled IBM Quantum System Two offers an example of a modular hardware architecture that provides a pathway to continue scaling up quantum chips. System Two, for example, supports our upcoming 433-qubit IBM Quantum Osprey system, planned for 2022, and our 1,121-qubit IBM Quantum Condor processor, targeted for the end of 2023. System Two incorporates a new generation of scalable qubit control electronics together with higher-density cryogenic components and cabling. It moves us closer to a true quantum data center.