IBM reveals first clients of commercial quantum computing initiative Q Network

University of Melbourne one of five global hubs to advance research and industry collaboration

IBM today revealed the names of the 12 clients to be given early access to its 20 qubit quantum computer.

JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, Nagase, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University, and the University of Melbourne will be the first organisations to experiment with IBM’s most advanced quantum system, as members of Big Blue’s commercial quantum computing program – Q Network.

“IBM sees the next few years as the dawn of the commercial quantum era – a formative period when quantum computing technology and its early use cases develop rapidly,” said Dario Gil, vice president of AI and IBM Q, IBM Research. “The Q Network will serve as a vehicle to make quantum computing more accessible to businesses and organisations through access to the most advanced IBM Q systems and quantum ecosystem.”

“Working closely with our clients, together we can begin to explore the ways big and small quantum computing can address previously unsolvable problems applicable to industries such as financial services, automotive or chemistry. There will be a shared focus on discovering areas of quantum advantage that may lead to commercial, intellectual and societal benefit in the future,” he added.

The Q Network provides organisations with quantum expertise and resources, and cloud-based access to the “most advanced and scalable universal quantum computing systems available” starting with the 20 qubit machine.

IBM claims the system has close to double the coherence time (at an average of 90 microseconds) than previous generations of quantum processors (which averaged at coherence times of 50 microseconds). The machine also comes with improvements in superconducting qubit design, connectivity and packaging and allows for “high-fidelity quantum operations”, IBM said.

The clients named today will also be the first to experiment with IBM’s prototype 50 qubit machine – which the company says has hit similar performance metrics as the 20 qubit system – when it becomes available early next year.

Quantum advantage

A number of Q Network members have already revealed the use cases for quantum computing they’ll be exploring.

JPMorgan Chase will be considering use cases including trading strategies, portfolio optimisation, asset pricing, and risk analysis; Daimler AG will seek to find and develop new materials through quantum chemistry, solve complex optimisation problems in manufacturing processes and vehicle routing for fleet logistics and autonomous cars, and be looking at the intersection of quantum and machine learning to enhance the capabilities of artificial intelligence; Samsung will focus on the impact of quantum computing in the semiconductor and electronics industry; and JSR Corporation, a chemical and materials company, will explore how the technology can improve materials for electronics, environmental and energy applications.

Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda and Nagase will build up internal capabilities in quantum computing and investigate potential use cases for their industries.

IBM also today launched IBM Q Consulting to help clients realise new business value through the application of quantum computing, and deliver roadmaps to help them become “quantum ready”.

The academic institutions named today will serve as global hubs for the Q Network, and “broadly enable their industry and research collaborators to have online use of IBM Q Systems and engage in joint development work to explore quantum computing” IBM said.

The University of Melbourne will be comparing how algorithms perform on IBM's quantum systems with those run on supercomputer simulators. 

“This is a great opportunity for researchers to access the upcoming IBM Q systems that will allow them to program and run quantum algorithms on actual quantum computers, gaining valuable experience,” Professor Lloyd Hollenberg, deputy director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, told Computerworld.

“With the highly developed capability for simulating quantum algorithms users of the Hub will be ideally placed to compare results from the IBM Q systems directly with supercomputer simulations to gauge and understand in depth how quantum information is processed in these machines,” he added.

Researchers at the university will also work on developing quantum software and provide teaching and training to Australian organisations.

Read more: Maersk and IBM team up for blockchain-based global trade platform

“This is a key reason for setting up the hub, aligning strongly with the National Innovation and Science Agenda, to create an environment and structure to enable a range of Australian-based industry partners to be trained in quantum computing and gain experience on a real system, ready for the next phase in quantum computing as the systems grow in size and capability,” Hollenberg added.

Industry interest

Industry interest in the potential of quantum computing has heightened in recent years.

In May last year, Samsung, JSR, Honda, Hitachi Metals, Canon, and Nagase joined IBM’s Research Frontiers Institute – a consortium that evaluates the business implications of the technology.

Last month, Google – which is working towards demonstrating a 49-qubit quantum computer by the end of the year – announced a partnership with Volkswagen. The car manufacturer will be working with Google to research the potential of quantum computing in traffic optimisation, development of the structure of high-performance batteries for electric vehicles and new machine learning processes and their use in autonomous driving systems.

In Australia, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Telstra are backing the country’s “first quantum computing hardware company” Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC) Pty Ltd which is working to develop and commercialise a prototype circuit, which will serve as a "forerunner to a silicon-based quantum computer".

Microsoft, another big player in quantum computing research, told Computerworld in July it was “still trying to figure out” a business model for the technology.

Gartner last month urged CIOs to understand the "disruptive power" of quantum computing.

“Quantum computing is heavily hyped and evolving at different rates, but it should not be ignored,” says Matthew Brisse, research vice president at Gartner.

“It holds great promise, especially in the areas of ML, AI and cryptography...This potential for compute acceleration, as well as the ability to address difficult and complex problems, is what is driving so much interest from CEOs in a variety of industries," Brisse added.

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