IBM sees a big opportunity in quantum computing. Now it’s partnering with corporations including Daimler AG, JPMorgan Chase and Samsung to see if there’s money to be made in quantum, too.
Those companies in banking, automobiles and electronics are part of a first batch of partners in what IBM is calling its “Q Network,” a group that will have access to IBM’s quantum systems and share engineering over the next several years. IBM also plans to set up research hubs at higher education institutions and major research labs as part of the network, starting with Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Keio University in Japan and the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Partners in the Q Network now have access through the cloud to IBM’s 20 qubit computers, availability the company announced last month. With IBM already running a successful 50 qubit prototype, partners will access more advanced quantum computers over the course of the relationship.
“We’ve gone through such a long period of incubating the science,” says Dario Gil, vice president of AI and IBM Q at IBM Research. “Now the goal is to bring the world of quantum computing to business.”
IBM’s goal is for its partners to develop applications that demonstrate a business advantage because they run on quantum instead of traditional computers using silicon-based chips. IBM hopes to see such success by 2020, says Gil, though he says IBM is “very honest” about the fact that the technology is still in its early days.
Partners such as JPMorgan Chase, however, may have humbler expectations. They’ll send engineers to IBM’s research lab in Yorktown Heights, New York and share research back with the company on a regular basis, while also conducting experiments remotely over the cloud. Such research keeps the companies close to the pulse of quantum advancements, even if the partners don’t expect to build full-fledged applications on top of quantum computers, a challenge that doesn’t currently neatly map onto the faster but limited technology. “Success for us isn’t a specific product or a specific application, but more a much richer understanding of how to apply quantum in the future,” says Robert Stolte, managing director, J.P. Morgan Corporate and Investment Bank, who says the company is committed to the partnership. “I think of it as exploring together.”
Eventual applications could perform risk analysis or adjust prices more quickly in finance, make it easier to develop new materials in manufacturing and optimize logistics faster, but to do so, the companies must learn how to run the underlying algorithms of those applications on a quantum computer, among other challenges. Others involved in the program include Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, JSR Corporation and Nagase.
IBM says that its public access to quantum computers online have led to 35 entries in research publications from 1.7 million experiments across 60,000 users.
“Our partners don’t see this as a fad, it’s something that will be in the permanent landscape of computing,” says Gil. “These are the people who are willing to believe in the technology and willing to jump into the pool first.”